Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Tuesday that federal investigators won’t be given wholesale access to the state’s driver’s license database.
Dunlap’s office on July 1 began issuing Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards. Part of that new system requires the state to retain digital copies of identity-verifying documents, such as Social Security numbers and birth certificates, and use biometric technology to take a facial scan of anyone applying for or renewing a driver’s license or identification card.
The concerns about states collecting more data and documentation on their residents under the federal Real ID Act were catapulted to national attention this week when the Washington Post reported the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have turned state driver’s license databases into a facial-recognition goldmine without the knowledge or consent of millions of Americans.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have given the FBI access to their driver’s license databases, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. Those partnerships have given the FBI access to more than 641 million photos against which investigators have conducted more than 390,000 searches since 2011, the report found.
Another report from the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law found that one in two American adults is in a law enforcement facial-recognition network. The report’s authors wrote that use of biometric information obtained from sources other than criminal arrests or investigations is “unprecedented and highly problematic.”
But “Maine residents don’t have much to worry about. We don’t allow wholesale access to our databases,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said his office’s Division of Enforcement routinely cooperates with law enforcement, but such requests for information need to be narrowly tailored. He said that his office will provide a driver’s license photo to the Maine State Police if troopers need to know, for instance, what a suspect in an armed standoff looks like. But random requests for a swath of information will be rejected.
“Our data stays right here. We try to be very respectful [of the data we collect] … That’s why we try to protect it the way we do,” he said.
The concerns about privacy being debated nationally after the revelations made in the Washington Post mirror those that at the center of the debate over Real ID more than a decade ago.
Real ID emerged in 2005 among a slew of legislation to address national security concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it was one of the key recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report.
The Real ID Act set national standards to improve the security of state-issued identification to prevent undocumented immigrants and terrorists from obtaining U.S. driver’s licenses. Several of the 9/11 hijackers had obtained state-issued driver’s licenses in the months leading up to the attacks.
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.” Another 26 states followed suit, passing laws prohibiting compliance with Real ID or resolutions opposing it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
States were particularly troubled by the law’s requirements for data and document collection, notably a provision in the law that Maine, for example, give other states access to electronic information in its driver’s license database. But it’s unclear whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which Congress charged with implementing the law, will ever require states to comply with this provision.
“That idea for an integrated national database collapsed under its own weight,” Dunlap said.
Amid concerns about the privacy issues around biometric technology, then-Gov. Paul LePage in 2011 signed into law a prohibition against using facial recognition software when Mainers get driver’s licenses and restricting how information used to create licenses is shared or stored.
That prohibition was repealed in April 2017 when lawmakers passed a bill directing Dunlap’s office to finally bring the state into compliance with Real ID no later than July 1, 2019. The measure left in place restrictions on how the state can share biometric data acquired by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Dunlap pegged final cost of implementation at $2.5 million.
Mainers can now get Real ID-compliant documentation at any Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. To get one, they will need to present one document that establishes identity, date of birth and proof of U.S. citizenship, lawful permanent residence or temporary lawful status in the U.S.; proof of Social Security number; and two documents to establish proof of Maine residency, such as a utility bill and mortgage statement, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Dunlap said that Mainers can choose to opt out from Real ID. In that case, they won’t be required to submit to a biometric facial scan nor will copies of their identity-verifying documents be retained.
But that could come with its own headaches. Starting Oct. 1, 2020, travelers who wish to board domestic flights will need to present Real ID-compliant identification or an accepted alternative, such as a U.S. passport or passport card. Visitors to certain secure federal facilities, such as military bases, nuclear plants or the U.S. Mint, will also need to present compliant identification in order to gain entry.
A Real ID will cost $55 for anyone younger than 65 and will cost $41 for anyone 65 years or older.