The Department of Homeland Security’s recent release of its Final Rule on implementation of the Real Act of 2005 calls for minimum standards for state-issued drivers licenses as one step in a larger effort to make it more difficult for unauthorized persons to acquire and/or create a fraudulent license or state card. After reviewing comments from various states to its originally proposed Real regulations, DHS amended several key provisions of the Act and delayed the implementation timeline for minimum standards in order to reduce the cost burden to states and to allow a longer period for compliance. Nonetheless, the new Rule calls for significant enhancements to state DMV records, including the capture, storage, and provision of interstate access to drivers-license photos. One question remains, though: Will the implementation of Real ID impede, or provide impetus to, current efforts to provide access to DMV photos to law-enforcement officers in the field?

A key objective of the Real ID Act is to reduce the ability of terrorists to obtain fraudulent identification cards. Technological improvements will certainly help in reducing fraud.  However, unless additional technologies are implemented to complement the Real ID regulations, the front lines of “verification” will remain primarily with law-enforcement officers in the field, who must physically inspect the new cards to determine if they are in fact legitimate.

Police and other law-enforcement officers throughout the country have long needed the ability to quickly access secure, accurate, and quality images of individuals during routine traffic stops and investigations, and at various security checkpoints.  Although drivers-license photo-sharing is a common intrastate practice in many areas of the country, no states are currently sharing the drivers-license photos of their own state residents with other law-enforcement officers in the field in neighboring states. The full implementation of the Real ID Act may make that desirable practice much more obtainable, at least technologically.

Technologically Possible, But Politically Risky?

DHS has been working closely with government and non-government agencies to determine the potential IT infrastructure needed to support real-time access and data exchange across state lines.  Several existing systems have been identified, such as  the American Association of Motor Vehicles’ Digital Image Exchange Program, the Commercial Drivers Licensing System, and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. The creation of a common infrastructure would certainly allow for easier image sharing.  However, privacy concerns have been raised about the security of and potential access to a national drivers-license image database.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has expressed concerns, for example, about the Real ID Act’s supposedly tacit creation of a National card, and other privacy advocates have cautioned against the creation of such a system, given the potential for unauthorized access to this information – including access by federal agencies.  The unauthorized and embarrassing access to State Department passport records of three presidential candidates disclosed earlier this month certainly exemplifies the type of problem that Real ID wants to avoid.

The DHS Final Rule attempts to address this issue, among others, by making it clear that the Real ID Act “does not create Federal access rights to State DMV databases.” Here it might be noted that the ACLU has not so far expressed any concern about certified law-enforcement personnel having access to drivers-license photos in the field, even across state lines.  

Today, several states are technologically capable of sharing their photos with law-enforcement officials in neighboring states – and, more specifically, in a mobile environment.  National implementation of the Real ID Act may hasten and enhance the several photo-sharing initiatives already underway and thereby provide local first responders throughout the country with the tools they need to effectively implement and achieve the objectives of Real ID.

To access Real ID Act information, click here.

Rodrigo (Roddy) Moscoso

Rodrigo (Roddy) Moscoso is the executive director of the Capital Wireless Information Net (CapWIN) Program at the University of Maryland, which provides software and mission-critical data access services to first responders in and across dozens of jurisdictions, disciplines, and levels of government. Formerly with IBM Business Consulting Services, he has more than 20 years of experience supporting large-scale implementation projects for information technology, and extensive experience in several related fields such as change management, business process reengineering, human resources, and communications.

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