Special Report | REAL ID: A costly reach into your rights?

Illinois among states at odds with federal government

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — If Illinois is forced to make changes to its driver’s license that the federal government is demanding, the results may include higher out-of-of pocket costs and longer wait times for Illinoisans seeking to get or renew a driver’s license.

Some groups who have been studying the Real ID issue say it could mean a $100 driver’s license for Illinoisans and a tougher, longer process to get a license in hand.

The Illinois Secretary of State’s office says until it gets more information from the federal government and more guidance from Illinois General Assembly, it can’t make accurate projections, but it’s certainly aware of the potential problems.

Nearly 30 states are out of compliance are or were operating under waivers that delayed implementation of certain standards specified in the Real ID Act, which was passed in 2005.

Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington are among those out of compliance, and they were notified in December that their requests for an additional extensions were denied. Come Jan. 10 (Sunday) they are out of time, says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The act establishes the minimum requirements a state driver’s license or other state ID must meet before it will be recognized for federal purposes, such as requirements of the Transportation Security Administration.

Real ID is intended to improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, which should inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent IDs, according to the DHS.

Illinois does have anti-forgery features built into its licenses and will be offering a new version in 2016, but it is short of other requirements Real ID Act demands.

Impact now

The immediate impact means Illinois driver’s licenses will not, as of Sunday, be adequate identification for entry to most federal facilities, nuclear power plants and military bases.

It will be a bit longer before the Transportation Security Administration stops accepting Illinois driver’s licenses as acceptable ID for boarding commercial airline flights.

Some feared the published Jan. 10, deadline would mean driver’s licenses would no longer be acceptable airport ID come Monday.

But a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman this week said that’s not the case.

“The Department of Homeland Security is continuing to evaluate the schedule for any changes to air travel requirements and will ensure that state governments and the traveling public are notified at least 120 days in advance of implementation,” DHS spokeswoman Amanda DeGroot said in an email.

“Until announced otherwise, the Transportation Security Administration will continue to accept valid driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by all states,” she wrote.

Dave Druker, press secretary for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, said that is the state’s understanding, as well. And, he said, the 120 days is a minimum, meaning May is the earliest the TSA would stop accepting Illinois licenses at airports.

Once the federal agencies say the current Illinois driver’s license is no longer adequate, Illinoisans still will be able to fly, but those states’ travelers will face additional security screenings.

Druker said Illinois officials have been trying to find out what those screenings will entail, but the information just isn’t available yet from the federal government.

“People will be able to get on airplane with Illinois ID, but there may be an extra measure of security they’ll have to go through,” Druker said. “Hopefully, Homeland Security will let us know in the near future what that will be.”

Meanwhile, Druker said, he would “encourage people to look at the idea of or seriously considering getting a passport, because that is a Real ID-compliant form of ID.”

Real costs

One very big question for the states and their residents: How much will this cost?

Among the requirements of the Real ID act are verification of birth certificates, which Illinois does not now require.

To bring in the necessary technology and become fully compliant and offer service levels much like it does now, the secretary of state’s office likely will have to revamp its 138 driver’s license facilities.

When all costs — such technology acquisition, training, physical and cyber security, storage and remodeling  — are addressed, the state is probably looking at a total cost of $60 million spread over two to three years, Druker said.

The secretary of state’s office will be responsible for making the upgraded system work, but it needs both legal and funding decisions from the Illinois General Assembly before it can begin offer Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses.

Druker said the secretary’s office is working on estimates and fact sheets for legislators, and those might be ready this week.

So, what will a Real ID-compliant Illinois driver’s license cost residents, should they become available?

That’s hard to tell.

It will be up to the General Assembly to decide whether to approve a federally compliant ID card  and, if so, how the compliance costs will be met.

Secretary Jesse White, D-Chicago, always has sought to keep drivers’ services affordable and convenient and will keep trying to do so, Druker said.

But without more information from DHS and actual legislation from the General Assembly, it’s too soon for the secretary’s office to project a per-license charge, Druker said.

Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said it’s possible costs for a Real ID-compliant state driver’s license could hit $150.

That’s five times the current $30 and, Yohnka noted, an amount that could be a real problem for those least able to pay.

Whatever the per license charge turns out to be, “it will be an additional cost when it comes to what you and I have to pay to simply renew our driver’s licenses,” Yohnka said.

“I think it puts a real burden on people who are struggling to get by every day,” he said. “And from all the data we see, there just far too many folks living from paycheck to paycheck.”

Further, he wondered whether given security requirements and costs, the state will be able to continue to offer nearly 140 locations where people can get their driver’s licenses or ID cards.

Also, Yohnka said the increased demands for documentation might mean each applicant would have to make multiple trips to a license facility and perhaps even wait to receive his or her driver’s license by mail.

“Gosh, we’d hope not,” Druker said of that scenario. But, Druker added, short of more information, he really couldn’t make accurate projections.

The secretary’s office feels the federal government’s stance toward Illinois has been shortsighted and misguided, especially as Illinois is more than 80 percent compliant with the Real ID requirements, Druker said.

But addressing the issues and keeping the public informed of changes are high priorities for the secretary, Druker said.

“We’ll continue to talk with them (Homeland Security) and continue to work with the General Assembly here in the spring session,” he said.

Thorny issues

Although it’s been on the books since 2005, Real ID hasn’t been fully implemented at least in part because the states and federal government don’t necessarily agree on the need for the law or its propriety.

Some states that have chosen not to comply also say it’s an unfunded mandate from the federal government, and they question whether national standards for driver’s licenses and the like will truly deter terrorists.

Many see the creation of the system, which would link the state databases, as the de facto introduction of a national ID card–or the building blocks thereof.

Some of those states, including Illinois, have passed resolutions in opposition to Real ID.

Despite the federal government’s stance to the contrary, critics say the Real ID Act does create a national ID card and raises scary questions about individual liberty.

Critics fear the governments imposing mandatory use or swiping of the cards to allow access to, and therefore track, a whole range of citizens’ activities. They say the government is — or at least is attempting to — build its surveillance capability.

The Cato Institute’s Jim Harper, among others, has argued that government control over a national card — specifically the decision to grant or not grant one to an individual — could amount to the government’s allowing or disallowing someone access to society.

The security of citizens’ data also is a concern.

While Illinois has generally done a good job of safeguarding drivers’ data, a nationally linked system means “we’re as vulnerable as the weakest state across the country,” said Yohnka.

A nationwide system of linked drivers’ information would be “a pretty golden ticket for hackers,” he said.

With the Real ID Act now 11 years on the books and compliance still elusive, some believe the federal government’s decision in December to tell five states “time’s up” may be a move intended to put pressure on all of the states still not in compliance.

“The federal strategy here is pretty clear: Crack down on five states and intimidate the others into falling in line. By limiting its initial action to just a few states, the feds can keep the public outcry down to a dull roar and shift the blame onto five state governments,” wrote Mike Maharrey, communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center.

“The DHS can limit the backlash by cracking the whip on residents of only five states rather than taking on all 28 non-compliant states at the same time.”

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