Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is helping advance Montanans’ widespread opposition to the federal Real ID Act. The act, which mandates a de facto national ID card that many fear will endanger privacy rights and overburden state budgets, was denounced in April by the Montana Legislature.
Tester has signed on as a co-sponsor for bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that would repeal Real ID’s provisions and revive state-federal negotiations to make driver’s licenses more secure. On May 8, Leahy took up the Real ID issue at a hearing held by his influential committee and aired myriad concerns with the existing law.
The same day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) closed its public comment period on proposed Real ID rules and announced plans to plow ahead with its mandate that states issue standardized driver’s licenses beginning in May 2008. However, some internal dissent over Real ID rules is surfacing: a DHS committee on privacy and data security submitted written comments to the department calling the Real ID act “one of the largest identity management undertakings in history” and saying it raises major privacy, security and logistical problems.
Montana emerged as a national leader in the fight against Real ID when the Legislature unanimously approved, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed, legislation refusing to implement Real ID statewide. Washington has passed a similar provision, Idaho has denied funding to implement Real ID and numerous other states have passed resolutions opposing the plan. A $23.1 billion price tag as well as security and privacy concerns are states’ main reasons for opposition, despite federal officials’ threat that citizens of states not complying with the law won’t be able to board airlines, enter federal buildings or receive federal benefits.
Leahy and Tester say their legislation, the Identification Security Enhancement Act, will address national security worries without Real ID’s host of problems.
“We need stronger border security and tougher immigration policy,” Tester says. “But as a Montanan, I am downright against giving the federal government keys to the doors of our private lives.”