Real ID Act passes the House

By David
February 11, 2005

Yesterday House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) immigration bill, the Real ID Act (H.R. 418), was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is intended to disrupt terrorist travel and bolster U.S. border security and includes much of the immigration reform language that was dropped from last year’s intelligence overhaul legislation (discussed in our Dec. 2004 Update).

The act requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop federal driver’s license standards and contains details about minimum document requirements (i.e., information and features that must appear on new licenses), as well as the requirement that a foreign visitor’s temporary license must expire at the same time the visitor’s visa expires. The act also prohibits federal agencies from accepting state issued driver’s licenses or identification cards unless such documents meet the federal standards. In addition, it includes financial incentives for states to enter into an “interstate compact” for sharing driver’s license data. Finally, the bill repeals the provision in 2004’s intelligence reform legislation that had placed the responsibility for creating such federal driver’s license standards on the Secretary of Transportation.

Among privacy and civil liberties advocates, the bill has renewed worries about the development of a national identification system.* Indeed, critics of the bill assert that implementing the standards and information sharing compacts would amount to a “de facto national ID card.” Supporters of the bill contend that the bill is needed to address a number of vulnerabilities in border and homeland security efforts.

The bill counted over 100 House cosponsors and passed in a 261-161 vote, with 8 Republican members crossing party lines to vote against it and 42 Democrats crossing to vote for it. It has strong support from the White House, and the Washington Post reports that a similar bill will be introduced soon in the Senate that has the support of “50 to 60” senators.

* Click here for more information on ACM’s position regarding national IDs.