Feds Offer States More Time On Driver's License Changes

Thursday, March 1st 2007, 6:05 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Under pressure from lawmakers and governors, the Bush administration is planning to give states more time to adopt uniform driver's licenses.

The Homeland Security Department was to issue new rules Thursday giving states that need it an extension past the May 2008 deadline that Congress established two years ago.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters the new rules would ``comfort anxieties'' of the states but would also ``renew our commitment to getting this job done properly.''

Governors, state legislators and members of Congress have railed against the new requirements. In January the Maine legislature overwhelmingly passed a resolution objecting to the law, and about a dozen other states also have balked at complying with it. Several are expected to pass laws or adopt resolutions declining to participate.

Chertoff promised flexibility but added, ``There's got to be a disciplined approach to getting in compliance with the law and the extension has to be a reasonable length of time. It's not going to be an extension that takes you years into the future.''

State officials have complained about the license requirements, which were in the 2005 REAL-ID Act, saying Congress didn't give them the money to convert their databases or enough time to develop driver's licenses that critics complain amount to a national ID card.

The law, passed in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, requires all states to bring their driver's licenses under a national standard and to link their record-keeping systems.

``There's vividly in my mind a picture of the Florida driver's license Mohammed Atta carried that he used to get on an airplane to drive it into the World Trade Center,'' Chertoff said. ``Shame on us if we don't do something to get a handle on what is the principal form of identification used in this country.''

The administration is issuing the rules at the same time the Senate is considering ordering a two-year extension of the driver's license deadline as part of its debate over homeland security legislation.

Privacy advocates also have griped that a national database linking all the states' systems could promote identity theft.

The digital photo, and possibly digital fingerprint, encoded on the ID cards could make them more valuable to identity thieves because they would be more widely accepted, they claim.

``It's going to be a honey pot out there that's going to be irresistible to identify thieves,'' said Barry Steinhardt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.