The ranking members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs were clearly concerned when the committee began their hearing on the PASS ID Act.
PASS ID has been touted as an alternate security standard for official identity documents and is designed to replace the oft-slandered REAL ID system that was created using the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. REAL ID was approved by the Congress following the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission's finding that "secure identification should begin in the United States," and recommended that "the federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses." REAL ID requires states to issue secure driver's licenses and ID cards that cannot be tampered with; it requires that applicants for these documents produce verifiable and up-to-date identification documents; and it mandates that licenses issued to foreigners in the United States temporarily expire when the individual's permission to be here expires. All but one of the 9/11 hijackers had been issued drivers licenses and state ID cards valid long past the expiration date of their visas, and some of the hijackers were unlawfully present in the United States as of the time they obtained these documents.
Many states, however, have been reluctant to follow REAL ID guidelines due to the costs involved in producing REAL ID-approved driver's licenses and ID cards. To date, 11 states have passed legislation that prevents the state from complying with REAL ID. Some lawmakers see REAL ID as cumbersome and expensive and would prefer to sacrifice the security of REAL ID for the less expensive PASS ID.
In June, DHS Secretary Napolitano said, "PASS ID is a cost-effective, common-sense solution that balances critical security requirements with the input and practical needs of state governments. I am committed to supporting this important bill and it is my hope that Congress will pass it into law as quickly as possible."
However, during the bill's first hearing in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the ranking members were far from impressed. Sen. Joe Lieberman said that he is worried the bill does not require states to verify the authenticity of certain records, like birth certificates. He also voiced concern that states would not be required to verify that a person does not have a license from another state while Sen. Susan Collins said the bill would actually make it harder for airport security officials to bar someone without a compliant license from boarding a plane: "This provision would eliminate an important incentive for states to adopt federal standards for secure licenses and could impose worrisome restrictions on the discretion of security officials who believe a passenger without a compliant card should not be permitted to board a plan."
DHS Secretary Napolitano stressed that REAL ID needs to be replaced quickly as its standards become mandatory for those boarding airplanes starting January 1, 2010 (most Americans will not have REAL ID-compliant identification documents and would be subject to additional security checks).
Sens. Lieberman and Collins hope to finish the markup process by July 29.
Click here to read more about the PASS ID hearing, click here to read how REAL ID could have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and click here to read a Heritage Foundation backgrounder on the PASS Act.
Updated: Wed, Jul 29th 2009 @ 12:54pm EDT