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States following Maine's lead to fight national driver's license

WASHINGTON -- A revolt against a national driver's license, begun in Maine last month, is quickly spreading to other states.

The Maine Legislature on Jan. 26 overwhelmingly passed a resolution objecting to the Real ID Act of 2005. The federal law sets a national standard for driver's licenses and requires states to link their record-keeping systems to national databases.

Within a week of Maine's action, lawmakers in Georgia, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington state also balked at Real ID. They are expected soon to pass laws or adopt resolutions declining to participate in the federal identification network.

In addition, legislation against Real ID has been filed in at least nine other states: Massachusetts, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.

"It's the whole privacy thing," said Matt Sundeen, a transportation analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "A lot of legislators are concerned about privacy issues and the . . . estimated $11 billion implementation cost."

Supporters of the national ID law say it is needed to prevent terrorists and undocumented immigrants from getting fake identification cards.

States will have to comply by May 2008.

If they do not, driver's licenses that fall short of Real ID's standards cannot be used to board an airplane or enter a federal building or open some bank accounts.

Missouri state Representative James Guest, a Republican, formed a coalition of lawmakers from 34 states to file bills that oppose or protest Real ID.

"This is almost a frontal assault on the freedoms of America when they require us to carry a national ID to monitor where we are," Guest said in an interview Saturday.

"That's going too far."

Guest filed a resolution last week opposing Real ID and said he expects it quickly to pass the Legislature. "This does nothing to stop terrorism," he said.

Though most states oppose the law, some such as Indiana and Maryland are looking to comply with Real ID, Sundeen said.

The issue may be moot for states if Congress takes action to repeal the national law.

Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, along with Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, filed a bill last year to repeal the law. Sununu expects similar legislation will be introduced soon.

"The federal government should not be in charge of defining and issuing driver's licenses," Sununu said in a statement.

Privacy advocates say a national driver's license will promote identity theft.

Barry Steinhardt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Real ID ordered by Congress would require a digital photo and probably a fingerprint on each driver's license or state-issued ID card. That, he said, will make it more valuable to identity thieves because the ID card will be accepted as much more than a driving credential.

An identity thief, Steinhardt said, could buy a Real ID from a rogue motor vehicle department employee with is own photo and fingerprint on it. "The victim is never going to be able to undo this," Steinhardt said.