State official says identification fears groundless

The official in charge of the state’s drivers’ licenses called groundless the fears being stoked by several Internet bloggers that Louisiana residents soon will be unable to fly commercially.

“Louisiana is in no jeopardy, no jeopardy,” said Stephen F. Campbell, commissioner of the state Office of Motor Vehicles. He said federal security officials would continue to accept Louisiana drivers’ licenses as identification for travelers wanting to board airplanes for both domestic and international destinations, at least for the time being.

“We have been given assurances that the federal government is not going to implement their scheduled dates” for banning the use of state drivers’ licenses that don’t meet federal standards before the state’s new drivers’ licenses are rolled out in January, Campbell said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would wait until Louisiana’s multi-million dollar drivers’ license revamp was complete, Campbell said. Phone queries to the federal agency seeking to confirm Campbell’s understanding went unanswered Friday.

Homeland Security had set a firm deadline of Jan. 15, 2013, for imposing the federal Real ID Act of 2005, but postponed until sometime in October to allow the remaining states, which includes Louisiana, to bring their drivers’ licenses into compliance.

“That process will satisfy the Real ID with the exception of the legislative ban on Real ID,” Campbell said Friday. “I look for the legislature to modify that ban.”

The Real ID Act of 2005, enacted as part of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, set standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and other official identification documents that would make it easier for law enforcement to verify the identity of the holder. The act requires identification cards to include specific security features and document support. It also stipulates protocols for issuing the identification. The law forbids federal authorities from accepting noncompliant identification from people seeking access to planes, federal facilities and nuclear power plants.

Louisiana passed legislation in 2008 forbidding Louisiana from, essentially, including a symbol that shows the state’s official identification complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005.

Over the years, critics raised several arguments in testimony before legislative committees against making Louisiana drivers’ licenses compliant with Real ID. The recurring concern cited by critics is that the federal government could track private individuals.

Campbell said that was because federal passports have two bits of technology that worry critics: Radio-facilitated chips that allow the government, if it chooses, to electronically find the physical location of the paperwork; and a photograph that can be used by facial recognition software, which allows computers to scan faces in a crowd and identify many of those people. It was this technology that allowed law enforcement to identify the two brothers accused of the bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier this year.

Campbell said those two facets, which are used in U.S. Passports, are not part of the Real ID and, therefore, will not be included in the new Louisiana drivers’ licenses.

A bid to roll back the 2008 state law that forbids compliance with the federal law stalled in the state Senate after some lawmakers said the language was too intrusive. A procedural move sidetracked House Bill 395 on May 28.

State Sen. Jonathan Perry, one of the Senate’s more vocal critics of Real ID, filed a resolution on May 29 to establish a task force to study and make recommendations. The resolution creating the 12-member task force required that the first meeting be held by Sept. 15.

Perry, who will chair the task force, did not return three calls Friday seeking comment.

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, is a member of the task force as chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works. Adley confirmed that the Senate staff is trying to schedule the task force’s first hearing, but had not yet established a firm date.

“When we left the session, the State Police were telling us we would have to pass something,” Adley said. “It’s serious, in my view, where our people will have to use passports to fly because we didn’t do something with Real ID.”