License for Controversy

REAL ID Act faces uncertain future because of concerns over privacy

On a breezy Saturday in late March, a stream of disgruntled people flowed through the double doors of the West Flamingo Road office of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, stretching into the afternoon sun. After standing in the DMV’s general information line for three hours, Veronica Mendez sat on a bench in front of the building with her mother and young daughter, ticket in hand. Mendez’s wait was far from over, but she had finally received a number to see a DMV employee.

“I’ve been here three hours to change my registration,” Mendez says. “[The DMV employees sarcastically] said, ‘That’s all?’ They were surprised I had to wait in line three hours for this.”

Wait times at DMV locations around the state recently increased from an average of 45 minutes to two hours, a change attributed to what DMV Public Information Officer Kevin Malone calls the perfect storm—budget cuts, employee furloughs and the introduction of Advanced Secure Issuing driver’s licenses. The new driver’s licenses were created to meet 18 benchmarks set by the 2005 REAL ID Act and require that Nevadans provide proof of residential address at the DMV.

“We never required that before, so we are turning a lot of people away [because they don’t have the right documentation], and that’s adding to the lines,” Malone says. “That’s why it’s a two-hour wait.”

The DMV has launched an educational TV advertising campaign to inform the public of the licensing changes, but ASI licenses—which are marked with a gold star—have been a source of controversy since before they were implemented earlier this year. The REAL ID Act mandates that each state’s identification cards and driver’s licenses must comply with standards set by the Department of Homeland Security.

Nevada is one of nine states to fulfill the terms of the REAL ID Act. Although the state Legislature voted against implementing the act in both 2007 and 2009, Gov. Jim Gibbons in January ordered an emergency 120-day regulation to bring the state up to speed with the law. At the time of Gibbons’ order, the Department of Homeland Security had threatened to prevent citizens with noncompliant ID cards from boarding airplanes, but that threat was later rescinded, eliminating the need for the new ID. Nevada’s implementation of the REAL ID Act has united conservatives and liberals in opposition.

“REAL ID is nothing but a national ID, and a national ID is essentially antithetical to liberty,” says Janine Hansen, conservative lobbyist and director of the Nevada Eagle Forum. “Secondly, if [hackers] can break into the computers at the Pentagon, I don’t feel secure with the additional information that the DMV will have.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada also has expressed concern about the REAL ID Act’s potential privacy violations and overreaching federal mandates.

Fourteen states have rejected the REAL ID Act, and the Department of Homeland Security is now considering more affordable alternatives, such as the less stringent PASS ID. Gibbons’ regulation expires May 1, and the Legislature must decide whether to renew the ASI licensing program, which cost $2 million to implement ($1.3 million of which came from a federal grant). State lawmakers have indicated that they may let the program expire because of the REAL ID Act’s uncertain future on the federal level.

“We hope that the Legislature does the right thing and refuses to force Nevadans to shoulder this burden when it comes time to make the decision,” says Rebecca Gasca, a public advocate for the ACLU of Nevada. “They should continue holding off until more finite changes are made on the federal level, which is bound to happen.”

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