Mainers may not be able to board a plane using their driver’s licenses starting in 2016 if the state does not start complying with the federal Real ID program.
In 2007, Maine became the first state to reject the federal regulations adopted in response to a study on national security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Federal officials wanted to make driver’s licenses more uniform and secure, but opponents said the federal law was too sweeping and intrusive.
Non-compliance, however, has restricted the ability of residents from some states to access some federal buildings, and that is likely to increase.
The Real ID program is intended to make states’ requirements for driver’s licenses and identification cards more uniform and stringent.
The act requires states to maintain a database of license applicants’ information that is accessible to the federal government, and take photos of applicants that can be scanned by facial recognition software.
As of April this year, people from states that have not complied can no longer use their driver’s licenses to access some federal buildings, such as the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In July, the licenses were no longer adequate to access restricted federal facilities, such as the U.S. Mint and nuclear power plants. Residents from non-complying states need passports to enter those buildings. As of January, the licenses will not be adequate to get into semi-restricted federal facilities where a license or passport currently is required.
And by Jan. 19, 2016, Maine driver’s licenses may no longer be an acceptable ID to board aircraft.
“Whether or not they’re serious, we kind of have to take them at their word,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, whose department oversees driver’s licenses in Maine. He plans to report to lawmakers about the impending deadline to comply with the Real ID Act.
“I don’t want the Legislature to be caught by surprise if they get constituents complaining,” Dunlap said.
The restrictions do not stop constituents from being able to visit congressional offices, federal courts or Social Security offices, he said.
Maine already has implemented some of the requirements, such as barring illegal immigrants from getting licenses, using a federal database to verify the residency documents, making sure that non-resident driver’s licenses expire when their legal status in the United States ends, and preventing people from getting multiple Maine licenses or ID cards.
RESISTANCE OVER INTRUSIVENESS
Concerns about the Real ID program have united libertarian-minded citizens from both parties, especially over the portion of the law that creates a federal database of personal information that would be maintained by the state and accessible to federal officials.
“You might as well just repeal the Fourth Amendment,” Dunlap said, referring to the prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures of property.
He estimates it would cost between $500,000 and $1 million to comply with the Real ID law, with ongoing costs for technology upgrades and training. He noted that state motor vehicle bureaus are not supposed to be doing immigration enforcement.
Currently, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Alaska, Arizona, and Louisiana have refused to comply with the Real ID program, and several other states have not met every requirement, although most have indicated they will.
In 2011, the Maine Legislature voted to prohibit the state from complying with the Real ID requirements, based on concerns about privacy, federal overreach and the expense of implementing the requirements.
“The citizenry was not wanting to comply,” said Rep. Charles Theriault, D-Madawaska, House chairman of the Transportation Committee. “I think they look at it as a bit more of a federal intrusion than it really should be.”
The Maine Legislature is likely to take up the issue again this winter.
The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the program, and says Maine has been a leader in protecting its residents’ civil rights.
“Why should we be passing laws that intrude on people’s rights to come and go?” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “We should be working on affirming people’s right to privacy, which is guaranteed in the Constitution.”
During consideration of the 2011 bill, which prohibited the state from using retinal scans, facial recognition or fingerprint technology in issuing driver’s licenses, Gov. Paul LePage supported creating safeguards that forbade digital images and Social Security numbers from being shared, sold or maintained in central databases. His office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the ongoing fear of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil would make it difficult for Maine and other states to continue to resist the requirements. The Washington-based think tank favors more restrictions on immigration.
Immigration control is a federal responsibility and the government must establish uniform standards for identification that are accepted across the country, Krikorian said.
“A terrorist, Mexican drug cartel operative or ordinary schmoe who is an illegal alien needs a driver’s license to function in modern society,” he said. “Those people who say they don’t want Real ID and don’t want a national ID card are saying they want a bad system of identification, one that doesn’t work very well.”
U.S. HAS THE FINAL AUTHORITY
The Real ID requirements are a byproduct of events that started, in part, in Portland, where two terrorists boarded a flight for Boston and eventually were joined by others in crashing two airliners into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The federal 9/11 Commission was then established to identify vulnerabilities in the country’s security network. One recommendation was to improve the security of identification papers such as driver’s licenses, which are increasingly used as the dominant form of ID to access certain locations and conduct business.
Dunlap does not believe Mainers will be barred from aircraft, but non-compliance could create delays. If Maine continues to refuse to comply, every airport in the country will have to have a special system to process passengers from states like Maine, he said.
Some move to accommodation is more likely, said Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee.
“We’re going to have to work with the federal government at some point, it’s just a matter of time, ” Crockett said. “There comes a point where the federal government is the prevailing authority. … There may be flexibility, to meet somewhere in the middle, to find a happy medium.”