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Iowa to adopt controversial driver's license program

1:34 PM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
Source: STATE OF IOWA Credit: GANNETT
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By WILLIAM PETROSKI
(The Des Moines Register)

 DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa officials plan to proceed with a controversial driver's license identification program that's been rejected by 25 states and has been the subject of concerns about individual privacy and difficulties with compliance.
The REAL ID program, adopted by Congress in part to prevent foreign terrorists from boarding commercial airliners, will begin in Iowa on Jan. 15.

New applicants for an Iowa driver's license or a state identification card are already being asked to submit documentation required for a REAL ID and will automatically be issued a REAL ID.

Applicants to renew a driver's license or state ID card face a choice: Submit additional documentation as necessary to obtain a REAL ID or continue to use a standard-issued license or ID card, said Mark Lowe, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Division.

The REAL ID licenses and state ID cards will look nearly identical to ones issued now. The only difference will be a star verification mark appearing in the upper-right corner of the card. The star indicates to federal officials that the person's identity has been verified according to the latest federal standards for physical security, verification of identity and legal presence in the United States.

"The main things that people need to understand is that there is no need to panic or to rush," Lowe said.

In the future, a REAL ID license or state ID card might be needed to board a plane, enter a federal government building or enter a nuclear power plant, state officials said.

But the earliest that requirement could begin is December 2014 or December 2017, depending on your date of birth. If residents don't do any of these activities, or do so infrequently, they may decide they don't need a REAL ID license or card, state officials said. Iowa has 2.2 million licensed drivers.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organization has concerns the program's requirements may be a burden to many Iowans. People will be required to present documents that establish their identity and date of birth, Social Security number, residential address and their lawful presence in the United States.

In other states, people have run into problems when their records were lost or damaged in natural disasters, birth certificates were never issued or were issued with errors, or a person was raised under a different name than what's on the birth certificate.

ACLU officials noted that other states have already rejected large parts of the REAL ID program, which they describe as an ill-conceived attempt to turn state driver's licenses into a national ID card. Twenty-five states have passed resolutions rejecting REAL ID, and in 15 states, it is illegal for state officials to comply with the law, ACLU officials said.

Iowa is among 13 states that have met requirements of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the REAL ID program. The others are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.

However, the National Governors Association has called the REAL ID Act "unworkable" in its current form, and the National Conference of State Legislatures has lobbied for its repeal.

Although many states have declined participation, "the state of Iowa felt compelled to move forward and spend the money on this and create an inconvenience for people," Stone said. "It's unfortunate, but we have to move forward and work to make sure the Department of Transportation does all that it can to make this program work for the people as efficiently and fairly as possible."

Congress enacted the REAL ID program in 2005 in an effort to adapt driver's licenses and ID cards to modern technology and to provide a more secure method to identify American citizens.

One of the goals is to prevent domestic terrorism committed by foreigners. The terrorists who participated in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States had been issued state driver's licenses and ID cards in Florida, Virginia, California and New Jersey.

Lowe said a state database is being created in Iowa for the REAL ID program, but the data won't be shared with any national database. Iowa will protect the security of its own data, although it may participate in a state-to-state verification system, he said.
Lowe said the documents being sought by the Iowa DOT for the REAL ID program aren't any different from what the agency has requested of Iowans for decades. Birth certificates are a primary document, he noted.

"We have an exceptions process, and we can work with those folks," Lowe said.

Gov. Terry Branstad supports the REAL ID program, said Tim Albrecht, the governor's communications director.

"This optional ID creates a secure license that helps prevent fraud and unauthorized use," Albrecht said. Iowa legislators have also been periodically briefed about the program, officials said.

The Iowa DOT hasn't broken down the REAL ID program's costs to state taxpayers, but Lowe said many aspects of the program, such as security improvements, would have been done anyway. He also said the state DOT has received several federal grants to cover the program's expenses.

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