2017-03-16 / Editorial

What is REAL ID and why does it matter?

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

Many will recall a time when driver’s licenses did not even have pictures on them. However, over the years, licenses have become more advanced, with holograms, magnetic stripes and much more, and can contain more and more information. At the same time, you need your license today for much more than driving a car. It’s customary to present your license when checking into a hotel, or sometimes when using your credit card; and it’s an allowable form of identification to clear security prior to boarding a plane for a domestic flight.

But since driver’s licenses are used so extensively for identification now, how secure are those state driver’s licenses, and how hard are they to get? That is the question that was taken on by federal REAL ID legislation, enacted in 2005, intended to make our identity documents more consistent and secure across the nation. However, Maine is one of five states that have refused to comply with the federal REAL ID law (the other noncompliant states are Kentucky, Montana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.)

For this reason, if you’ve been to the airport recently you’ve probably seen signs indicating that starting January 2018, your Maine driver’s license won’t work to get you on the plane. You’ll have to use a passport. In fact, if you work at a federal facility like Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, you may already have this problem today. So what is going on? Why is Maine not complying?

There has been fairly widespread opposition to compliance with REAL ID in the Maine Legislature. Opponents say that the new IDs could be used to a create a data record that could ultimately be used to impinge on personal freedom or somehow become compromised. It would also create a more centralized way to combine records like social security numbers and immigration status with driver’s license information. Supporters of the Real ID legislation say it provides greater security and enables newer technologies such as facial recognition to be put to greater effect. If Maine took steps to comply, the only change to the license we already have is that the photo would be stored digitally. Employees that issue licenses would also have to be fingerprinted and background checked.

While I appreciate that there are concerns with privacy, I think those are well addressed in the legislation. For example, a national registry of driver’s license information is specifically prohibited. I also think the potential reduction of fraud, and advancement of security regarding access to air travel and to federal sites such as nuclear power plants is desirable. However, I can appreciate the privacy concerns as well. We will be working on this issue and voting whether to comply with federal REAL ID requirements soon, and I would be interested in hearing your opinion. I can be reached at 283-1476 or martin. grohman@legislature.maine.gov.

Rep. Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford) is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature. Outside the legislature, he is chairman of the Solid Waste Commission in Biddeford, and the owner of a small company called Hellocycle which does alkaline battery recycling by mail.

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