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Governors balk at new US license rules

Warn of higher costs, privacy concerns in push for standard IDs

DES MOINES -- Fees for a new driver's license could triple. Lines at motor vehicles offices could stretch out the door. Governors warned yesterday that states and consumers would bear much of the burden for a terrorism-driven push to turn licenses into a national ID card.

''It's a huge problem," said Ed Rendell, Democrat of Pennsylvania. ''Trying to make this work, there will be hell to pay." He said it would cost his state ''$100 million plus" to restructure motor vehicle offices to respond to the new federal law called the REAL ID Act.

The law, passed in June as part of an $82 billion military spending bill, goes beyond an earlier measure that sought to standardize state driver's licenses. By 2008, states must begin to verify whether license applicants are legal residents of the United States.

That deadline brought the first question in a closed-door session between governors and federal officials on homeland security yesterday at the National Governors Association meeting.

The two groups also talked about pressures on National Guard troops and steps to better integrate state and local law enforcement with federal efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, governors said as they wrapped up their summer meeting.

Governors also met with a Veterans Affairs official and the Army general in charge of the National Guard to talk about efforts to help soldiers transition to civilian life and work after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the REAL ID Act prompted the strongest reaction.

''It has become a national ID card. It's a terrible idea for the states to do it," said Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas and chairman of the governors association. ''They have created a national nightmare, and they'll probably be driving up the cost of the driver's licenses by three- or four-fold."

After meeting privately with governors, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the new law could create opportunities to protect people against identity theft. He also offered assurances that his agency would work cooperatively with states.

''What we want is to find a common plan that works for everybody, but we'll also take into account the natural differences states have," Chertoff said.

The latest law, and an earlier version passed last year, have brought complaints from civil liberties advocates that the new cards' reliance on biometric identifiers such as fingerprints or retinal scans would threaten privacy.

They have warned that the documents can be stolen or altered, making identity theft easier, and that the cards could let the government track people's travels.

Massachusetts state officials say, however, that the Real ID Act will probably have little impact on residents because the state already requires several proofs of identification and has digitized facial images of applicants -- primary federal requirements.

''Right now Massachusetts has the most secure license in all of North America," said Amie O'Hearn, spokeswoman for the state's Registry of Motor Vehicles. ''We're really pretty much doing most of security measures contained in the act already."

The state is working on additional measures required by federal law, including online verification of immigration documentation. It is unclear how much these measures will cost residents, but it isn't expected to be significant, said O'Hearn.

''Massachusetts is really unique in that we like the Real ID Act," she said. ''We've always liked it. We just feel that a license is only as secure as the documentation you provide for it. We feel that this is just going to help do what we've been trying to do all along."

Megan Tench of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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