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Homeland Security Begins Crackdown On 'Real IDs'


Travelers from five states got a reprieve today. Those states' driver's licenses do not meet federal security standards. The Department of Homeland Security had been hinting that it would start rejecting those licenses as proper identification at airport checkpoints. But now, DHS says it will give those states two more years to get on board. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The federal standards were set by Congress as part of the Real ID Act, which passed back in 2005. It's aimed at making it harder for terrorists to get valid government IDs. People now are supposed to show their birth certificates and U.S. citizenship before getting a driver's license. In addition, the licenses must contain a digital picture, be tamperproof and be readable by a machine. And all of this data is supposed to be available to be shared with other states. And that's where the objections start.

WARREN LIMMER: We take our data privacy very seriously in this state.

NAYLOR: That's Minnesota State Sen. Warren Limmer, a Republican. He was the lead sponsor of a law approved by the state legislature in 2009 that prohibits Minnesota from complying with the Real ID Act. Minnesota is one of five states that are still not in compliance with the law and that have not been given waivers by the Department of Homeland Security. Today, the department said it is giving those states, which also include Illinois, Missouri, Washington and New Mexico, two more years to comply with the law, meaning residents could no longer use their driver's licenses to board flights after January 2018. Warren Limmer says he thinks the federal officials have their priorities wrong.

LIMMER: Now we're more concerned about the efficiency of getting on an airliner rather than protecting the data privacy rights of our citizens. And I'm somewhat taken aback because, quite honestly, I think the federal government is using a heavy club to bring the states into submission.

NAYLOR: There have been other objections to the Real ID Act. Critics like Jim Harper of the Libertarian Cato Institute say Real ID is akin to a national ID card.

JIM HARPER: A national ID is antithetical to American values. It would plunge us forward even further and faster into the surveillance state that we're already adopting quite well enough on our own.

NAYLOR: And he says it makes little sense to entrust the federal government with more personal information at a time when hackers have proven their ability to steal data from government computers. Homeland Security insists Real ID is not a national ID card. In a statement issued this afternoon, Homeland Security stressed no one needs to adjust travel plans or rush out to get a new driver's license or passport. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is urging government leaders in those states that are not in compliance with Real ID to use the two years to change their laws, adding it's time to move toward final compliance. One final note - driver's licenses from those five noncompliant states will not be sufficient for people who wish to access federal facilities, including military bases, starting this Sunday. You'll have to bring a passport or other acceptable ID. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.