[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] said Tuesday that it will continue to move forward with implementation of the REAL ID Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive], despite opposition among state legislatures and in the US Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] met on Tuesday to hear testimony on privacy and civil liberties Concerns with the law, the same day public comments on the Act were due to DHS for review. At the hearing [committee materials], chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed doubt [statement text] that states would be able to comply with rigid requirements of the Act, and said that "there are also civil liberties concerns involving this hasty Act." Jim Harper of the Cato Institute [think tank website] testified [Cato materials] that these are real concerns, and that the "proposal lays the groundwork for systematic tracking of Americans based on their race." As of May 1, 43 organizations have joined together in opposition [FCW report] to the Act due to worries that it will seriously effect the privacy and civil rights of US residents.
Since the REAL ID Act passed in May 2005, five states have passed anti-REAL ID legislation that rejects implementation of the Act. Most recently, Washington passed legislation [JURIST report] with strong support that dictates that the state not spend any money implementing the REAL ID Act unless privacy and security concerns are addressed. Initially drafted after the Sept. 11 attacks and designed to discourage illegal immigration, the law attempts to make it more difficult for terrorists to fraudulently obtain US driver's licenses and other government IDs by mandating that states require birth certificates or similar documentation and also consult national immigration databases before issuing IDs. The law is also meant to make it more difficult for potential terrorists to board aircraft or enter federal government buildings. After controversy and strenuous opposition from civil libertarians [FindLaw commentary], it finally passed in 2005 [JURIST report] as part of an emergency supplemental appropriations defense spending bill. Other state lawmakers have previously expressed concern [JURIST report] about possible problems expected to accompany the implementation of the REAL ID Act, fearing that they will not be able to comply with the law's requirements before a May 2008 deadline. In March, Homeland Security responded to these concerns by extending the deadline for compliance by 18 months [JURIST report]. The New York Times has more.