Governor, lawmakers should continue to negotiate on Real ID.
To help shore up security in post-9/11 America, Congress passed the Real ID Act of 2005. The idea was to make state-issued driver's licenses a sort of national identity card that would prevent terrorists and other criminals from obtaining IDs.
The intention may have been good, but the potential impact on state budgets and individual privacy is troubling. That's why Minnesota lawmakers rightly included a provision against complying with Real ID in the current transportation omnibus bill. The measure calls for Minnesota to opt out of the program -- unless the federal government pays for at least 95 percent of the cost and assures data privacy.
As it stands, the rule is an unfunded federal mandate that would cost an estimated $11 billion nationally over five years. Minnesota's share of that total could top $30 million. In addition, crucial questions about data privacy and security remain unanswered. It is reasonable to worry that the linked database would make it easier to access private data.
As local lawmakers point out, the federal law requires states to send citizen information to national databanks that are works in progress. The database systems needed to check the authenticity of ID documents are not up and running yet, nor are many of the other systems anticipated by the law. Minnesotans deserve assurances that their personal data would be protected.
Under the Real ID law, citizens would have to prove their identity, date of birth, citizenship or legal status, and provide a Social Security number. All drivers would need new cards. Those without them or a valid passpotr would be unable to board planes or enter federal buildings.
Minnesota is not alone in its concerns. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 21 states passed laws that either supported noncompliance or called on Congress to amend or repeal the act.
In a March letter, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty urged President Bush to work with Congress to provide more funding. And as chair of the National Governor's Association, Pawlenty wrote several letters expressing concerns about the act.
Yet Pawlenty said he will veto the noncompliance provision in the omnibus bill. The governor's spokesman says he agrees that the feds should pay more for the program, but not necessarily 95 percent. And he believes the proposal goes too far to restrict Minnesota's ability to proceed with development of a secure state system to comply with Real ID. The governor should rethink that veto.
Originally the ID Act said states had to comply by May 11, 2008. But after the barrage of objections, Homeland Security gave all states an extension to the end of 2009.
Between now and then, the federal government should listen to states like Minnesota and either resolve the privacy issues and pay for Real ID or repeal the law.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.