Homeland Security Strips Chips from Controversial REAL ID Plan

By Chris Gonsalves  |  Posted 2008-01-11 Print this article Print

The Department of Homeland Security is pressing ahead with its plan to require more secure driver's licenses, but without microchips.

The Department of Homeland Security is pressing ahead with its plan to require more secure driver's licenses for most Americans, but plans to embed microchips in the REAL ID cards have apparently been scrapped.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Thursday promoted the final rules for REAL ID during a meeting an advisory council. The DHS chief is expected to unveil details of the REAL ID program Friday afternoon, according to the Associated Press.

Under the REAL ID plan, Americans born after Dec. 1, 1964 would be required to get federally approved licenses within six years. DHS has been working on the REAL ID program for nearly seven years in an effort to thwart terrorists' and illegal immigrants' to counterfeit federal identification documents.

According to the DHS, the over-50 exemption will give states more time to distribute new licenses, adding that the risk of someone in that age group being a terrorist or illegal alien is very low. By 2017, even those over 50 must have a REAL ID to board a plane.

"We worked very closely with the states in terms of developing a plan that I think will be inexpensive, reasonable to implement and produce the results," Chertoff told the AP. "This is a win-win. As long as people use driver's licenses to identify themselves for whatever reason there's no reason for those licenses to be easily counterfeited or tampered with."

According to sources familiar with the REAL ID program, federal authorities scaled back the program and reduced its cost expected cost from $14.6 billion to $3.9 billion, a 73 percent decline,.

Still, privacy advocates have protested parts of the REAL ID plan, especially the creation of a national database of personal information and the sharing of personal data among government agencies. DHS officials say both are necessary to verify the new IDs. In its written objection to the law, the American Civil Liberties Union called REAL ID the "first-ever national identity card system," which "would irreparably damage the fabric of American life."

Security experts have also hit the REAL ID program, saying the plan could make citizens easy prey for identity thieves. State RMVs (Registries of Motor Vehicles) are increasingly targets for such cyber-criminals, experts say.

"My feeling is there's a tremendous amount of activity going on right now around data theft," said Jon Oltsik, an analyst with Enterprise Strategies Group told eWEEK. "The stuff we hear about in the news is dwarfed by the stuff we don't hear about, because people bury it, because they don't want to disclose it. They're praying nothing happens."

As part of the REAL ID program, driver's license photographs will be taken by state motor vehicle officials at beginning of the application rather than the end, so that photos of rejected applicants can be kept on file. The new REAL ID licenses will not contain microchips as some had expected. States will be able to choose from a menu of security measures, which DHS will detail later today, that they can use in their cards.

Over the next year, the government expects all states to begin checking both the Social Security numbers and immigration status of license applicants, Chertoff said.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.