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US.gov sets Real ID rules in stone

Privacy advocates, security mavens, states' rights renew assault

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Critics have renewed their offensive on a federal law mandating changes to state-issued drivers licenses after the US Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued final rules implementing the controversial measure.

Security researchers and advocates of civil liberties and states' rights lined up to attack the rules, which are required under the REAL ID Act of 2005. They direct states to add new features to drivers licenses, check applicants citizenship status and verify the authenticity of documents provided during the application process.

People from states that don't comply with the requirements by next year could be blocked from boarding airplanes and entering buildings controlled by the federal government.

"REAL ID creates a United States where individuals are either 'approved' or 'suspect,' and that is a real danger to security and civil rights," said Melissa Ngo, director of the Identification and Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The American Civil Liberties Union and security consultant Bruce Schneier also weighed in, arguing the measure did little to fight the threat of terrorism or make people more secure.

Legislatures from 17 states have passed resolutions objecting to the changes, which they say will increase the cost of issuing drivers licenses. The US Senate is debating the repeal of the REAL ID act.

In a statement issued with the new rules, DHS Security Michael Chertoff countered the chorus of critics, saying the changes would make people safer.

"Americans understand today that the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 drivers licenses and ID's, and used 364 aliases," he said. The changes would add only about $8 to the cost of issuing a drivers license and in exchange would help officials spot falsified documents and applicants who are criminals or illegal aliens, he said.

DHS has sought to mollify critics by scaling back some of the most controversial requirements, reducing costs and extending the deadline for state compliance. DHS is providing about $360m in assistance for states to implement the measures.®

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