BANGOR, Maine — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree joined her colleagues in Congress to propose a series of changes that would roll back some of the more controversial provisions of a federal law regulating state-issued driver’s licenses.
Pingree said the bill, which was submitted Tuesday afternoon, would make it easier for Maine to comply with the Real ID Act, a decade-old law that set national standards for state-issued identification.
The Real ID Privacy Protection Act would eliminate provisions in the law that require state motor vehicle bureaus to retain for 10 years digital scans of documents, such as birth certificates, used to apply for a driver’s license, and that those documents are maintained in a database accessible to the federal government and other states.
It also would give all noncompliant states relief from enforcement until Oct. 10.
A chief concern for Pingree and the bill’s lead author, Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, is that Real ID’s mandate that states collect and store official documents and other personal data could leave millions across the country vulnerable to identity thieves in the event of a data breach.
During the past few years, there have been a series of high-profile data breaches that compromised millions of Americans personal information, including the 2015 breach at the federal Office of Personnel Management that affected 22 million people.
“That’s been a concern to a lot of Mainers for a long time,” Pingree said in phone interview on Wednesday. “Do I want my information stored where people could hack it?”
This bill comes as Maine faces increasing pressure from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with implementing the law, to comply with Real ID. Maine is one of five states that aren’t in compliance, and the federal government on Monday stopped permitting access to certain federal facilities — military bases, the U.S. mint and nuclear power plants, among others — to visitors with Maine-issued driver’s licenses.
Another 20 states and five U.S. territories aren’t in compliance, but they have received additional time from Homeland Security to comply.
In October, Homeland Security denied Maine’s request for more time to comply with Real ID after a review found that the state had “not provided adequate justification for continued noncompliance.”
The consequences for flouting the law become more severe on Jan. 22, 2018, when travelers who want to board domestic flights need to present a compliant identification or an accepted alternative, such as a U.S. passport or passport card.
Real ID emerged in 2005 among a slew of legislation to address national security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, and it was one of the key recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report.
But many states balked at what they saw as federal overreach. And the Maine Legislature in 2007 passed a law prohibiting the state from complying with Real ID amid concerns that it would create a de facto “internal passport.”
After Maine and other states pushed back against the law, Homeland Security delayed enforcement of Real ID four times since it was originally supposed to go into effect in May 2008. Now Homeland Security is turning the heat up on states that have dragged their feet on complying with Real ID standards.
That has caused headaches for 500 Maine veterans who were told that their driver’s license wouldn’t be accepted to enter the Pease Air National Guard Base in Newington, New Hampshire, where they receive health care.
Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, who co-sponsored the 2007 law — has introduced a bill — LD 306 — that would repeal the state’s statutory noncompliance and direct the Maine secretary of state’s office to issue driver’s licenses and other state-issued identification that conform with the law’s standards.
He praised Pingree and her colleagues for taking a first step toward resolving some of the longstanding issues Maine has had with Real ID, but he expects the bill will face a “difficult” journey as it wends through Congress.
With time running out before the January deadline, Diamond said he remains committed to shepherding his bill through the Legislature.
“The critical issue is we need to … prevent more inconveniences for Maine citizens from Maine not complying,” Diamond said.