Back to drawing board for flawed ID system

Our state was right to reject the half-baked Real ID system rushed into place by the feds two years ago. Congress and the Bush administration need to go back to the drawing board on this one.

Touted as an important homeland security measure, Real ID makes driver’s licenses and ID cards from non-compliant states unacceptable forms of identification for boarding commercial flights and entering federal buildings starting in 2009. To become compliant, states must issue standardized licenses that include scannable personal information that’s linked to national databases.

The system has at least two major flaws: it comes without anything close to adequate federal funding (Washingtonians would have to cough up some $250 million over five years) and lacks ample safeguards to assure personal information on all those databases is protected from identity theft. Legitimate privacy concerns are also in play.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation Wednesday to keep the state out of the program unless those and other concerns are addressed.

Serious concerns over Real ID are shared by both parties in Olympia. The measure, prime-sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), passed 41-4 in the Senate and 95-2 in the House.

Congress approved Real ID in 2005 after the basic idea was suggested by the 9-11 commission, but it wasn’t fully vetted. It was attached to bills that addressed funding for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, never getting its own hearings.

With Washington joining at least four other states that have rejected it, and some 20 more considering such a move, the feds clearly need to start over. This time, rather than a top-down approach, they should create a process in which the Department of Homeland Security sits down with state officials, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to see if a more realistic, workable system can be forged.

Wider involvement really can lead to better solutions: Our state, working with British Columbia, has already won federal approval of a pilot project to use enhanced driver’s licenses at border crossings.

Still, all parties should recognize that ID systems offer very limited protection from terrorism. They might flag known terrorists, but not those without a previous record.

No changes as monumental as Real ID should be implemented without a thorough debate over the security gained vs. the privacy waived.

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