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US government cools on Real ID threats

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As a showdown shapes up over federally mandated requirements for state-issued IDs, the US government is signaling it may be ready to compromise.

States have until next Monday to ask that the deadline for complying with the Real ID Act be extended to 2010. The Feds have threatened that a failure to meet the deadline will result in citizens of pesky, non-compliant states being turned away or forced to endure additional screening when trying to board airplanes or access federal buildings or military facilities starting in May. Even with such threats, however, some states are balking at committing to the increased security measures, which, among many other things, require DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) offices to check with other states to ensure applicants don't have more than one license.

Last week, two holdout states, California and Montana, received extensions even though both states refused to commit to follow the plan. Previously, the US Department of Homeland Security said the extension would be given only to states that explicitly pledged to comply with the law.

Last Tuesday, the head of the California Department of Motor Vehicles wrote that his state's request for an extension "is not a commitment to implement Real ID, [but] rather it will allow us to fully evaluate the impact of the final regulations and precede with necessary policy deliberations prior to a final decision on compliance," according to Wired News.

Officials from Montana have gone one step further, refusing to apply for an extension and insisting they will not follow the law. Critics object to the Real ID requirements for a host of reasons. They say requirements that states link their databases jeopardizes individuals' privacy. They also say it costs too much and unfairly interferes with states' rights.

The decision by Homeland Security officials to grant the extensions anyway may signal a tacit concession that its hard line approach isn't working. Requiring citizens of California, the nation's most populous state, to undergo additional airport screening would have put additional pressures on the Transportation Security Administration, an agency that is already viewed by many as overextended.

One can only imagine the outcry at airports if Californians were forced to endure a unique set of bizarre screening rituals.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer told The Associated Press that federal officials had "painted themselves in a corner."

Remaining holdout states include Maine and South Carolina, which have not sought extensions, and New Hampshire, which passed a law last year making it illegal to comply. On Monday, South Carolina's attorney general held out the possibility of suing the federal government over the requirements but said it would be premature to do so now.

The Real ID act was passed four years after the 9/11 attacks and was billed as a way of making it harder for terrorists and immigrants to illegally stay in this country. It calls for new regulations to be phased in over the next decade. By 2014, the federally compliant IDs would be required to board a plane or enter federally controlled premises except for people over 50. By 2017, people over 50 would also have to present a license that meets the requirements. ®

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