Senate Committee Passes Bill Backed by ACLU of PA to Block Federal ID Program

June 10, 2009
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HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania Senate Communications and Technology Committee today took the first step toward blocking the federal Real ID program in Pennsylvania when it unanimously passed Senate Bill 621, legislation that would bar the commonwealth's participation in Real ID.

Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) is the primary sponsor of SB 621, and his bill has the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

"Real ID is a massive invasion of the privacy of all Pennsylvanians, and it's expensive, to boot" said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "If the legislature passes and the governor signs this bill, it will protect the privacy and the pocketbooks of all Pennsylvanians."

Passed in 2005 as part of an appropriations bill to fund American troops overseas and victims of the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, Real ID implements new standards for the issuance of state drivers' licenses. Privacy advocates have protested several requirements of Real ID. The law mandates the departments of motor vehicles nationwide to connect their databases, creating a massive new national database of license holders. Real ID also requires DMVs to collect and keep copies of essential personal documents like birth certificates and social security cards. Advocates anticipate that applying for and renewing a license will become more problematic and time-intensive under Real ID as PennDOT is forced to verify and store more documents.

To date, 13 states have passed bills similar to SB 621, and many more have passed resolutions protesting Real ID. Last June, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill like SB 621, but the legislative session ended before the Senate had a chance to consider it.

"Real ID is toppling as more and more states refuse to participate," Hoover said. "Pennsylvania can join the chorus of protest by passing SB 621 swiftly."

The Rendell administration has estimated that Real ID will cost $100-$120 million to implement and $40-$50 million annually to maintain. Meanwhile, Congress has designated a little over $100 million for the program to be divided among the 56 licensing jurisdictions.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama stated that he opposes Real ID, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has stated that the act should be repealed and reworked. Last year Napolitano signed a bill blocking Real ID in Arizona when she was governor of that state.

SB 621 passed in committee as part of a broader package of bills intended to protect the privacy of Pennsylvanians. SBs 622 and 623 were also voted out of committee today. SB 622 bans businesses from collecting personal information from state drivers' licenses, and SB 623 gives law-abiding citizens and residents the opportunity to opt-out of participating in government programs that collect biometric data. The ACLU of Pennsylvania supports SBs 622 and 623, as well.

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