Hold Your Cards

States vs. the Real ID Act

If the federal government gets its way, every state will have to comply with the Real ID Act as of May 11, 2008. Each American will have an ID card encoded with vital information using an undefined machine-readable technology, with the same specs from San Diego, California, to Bangor, Maine.

Well, maybe not Maine. In January both houses of the Maine legislature passed a resolution asking Congress to repeal the Real ID Act, which would mandate national ID cards containing name, birth date, sex, ID number, a digital photograph, address, and a “common machine-readable technology” chosen by the Department of Homeland Security, if it hasn’t been altered by the deadline. Democrats control both houses, but the vote wasn’t even close: The resolution passed by 34 to 0 in the Senate and 137 to 4 in the House.

“It goes back to privacy concerns,” says Michael Johnson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell (D–Kennebec County). “We don’t feel comfortable with all of this info flowing back to one place. And the federal government just passed on this mandate to Maine; it would cost $185 million for us to implement.”

Maine’s action wasn’t without precedent. From 2003 to 2005, eight state legislatures (including Maine’s) passed resolutions urging Congress to revise or repeal the PATRIOT Act. And in the wake of Maine’s vote, 12 states, including Montana and California, are considering similar resolutions. Maine itself is upping the ante: Democrats plan to introduce a bill prohibiting the secretary of state from spending any money to comply with the act. And in the U.S. Senate on February 9, Maine’s Susan Collins—a Republican who is up for reelection in 2008—introduced a bill that would delay the program’s implementation.

“Occasionally you’ll get a resolution that doesn’t carry much weight,” Johnson says. “This isn’t one of them.”

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