Gov. Janet Napolitano agreed Friday to have Arizona create a new driver’s license that can be used for everything from international travel to getting a job.
The deal with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would make Arizona the third state to have a document the federal agency considers secure enough to accept. Washington and Vermont have signed similar pacts.
Arizonans who don’t want to provide the additional information and documents that will be required to obtain one of these new “3-in-1’’ licenses will be able to keep using the ones they now have -- at least for the time being.
But Russ Knocke, press aide to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, acknowledged the secure licenses that would be created are designed to be aligned with the requirements of the federal Real ID Act which eventually is designed to make each state’s driver’s licenses acceptable as federal documents. And only states -- but not individuals -- will be able to opt out of that law.
That could convince state legislators to withhold the approval needed to implement Napolitano’s agreement. Many see the Real ID Act as making licenses into de facto national identification cards.
In fact, the state Senate approved a measure earlier this year specifically prohibiting the Arizona Department of Transportation from cooperating in any way with federal officials to implement the Real ID Act. Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, who championed that bill, called the Real ID Act “a total invasion of privacy.’’
The measure failed in the House.
Johnson told Capitol Media Services Friday she remains suspicious of even what is supposed to be a voluntary plan.
“I’d certainly want to look into that,’’ she said. But Johnson said Arizonans should be wary even if legislators give Napolitano the go-ahead.
“I think anybody would be foolish to volunteer to do that, to put all your privacy and put everything on a card like that,’’ Johnson continued. “But that’s my opinion.’’
Knocke said those fears are unwarranted and misdirected.
“I have yet to hear a privacy official put forward a sound argument for how their personal privacy is going to be somehow less secure with a more secure document,’’ he said.
Johnson’s concerns are not over the document itself but that Arizona would be sharing the information it gathers with other states. That, she said, provides even more opportunities for identity theft.
Knocke said the reverse is true.
“Wouldn’t you want to make sure that your state could check with another state to make sure that someone has not stolen your identity and is attempting to portray themselves as a reporter working at the Arizona state capitol seeking to renew a driver’s license?’’ he asked.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L’Ecuyer said legislators should want to approve the deal.
She cited the new law set to take effect in January which penalizes companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. L’Ecuyer said this card would be proof of citizenship and therefore proof of the right to work in the United States.
Knocke said applicants for the new license will need to prove citizenship, identity and residence. But he said it has not yet been decided exactly what documents people would need to provide -- and would be copied by state officials.
Also unresolved is cost.
L’Ecuyer said there would be a “minimal’’ increase in fees charged to obtain one of these new licenses to cover everything from the additional workload of Motor Vehicle Division employees to review documents to security features of the new card. Licenses now cost anywhere from $10 to $25, with older residents getting the lower costs.
And anyone who wants a new license would have to go to an MVD office. L’Ecuyer said she could not say what backups that would create.
The new licenses could be important for those who drive across the border.
While those now entering the U.S. by plane must present passports, current law allows residents returning by car or boat to simply make “oral declarations’’ of citizenship. Knocke said that ends Jan. 31, 2008.
After that, he said, incoming residents will need to present actual proof of citizenship which can be a passport -- or one of these new licenses.
Knocke said the new licenses also are an integral part of improving national security.
“The fact remains that we’re today living in a world where there are known vulnerabilities with state driver licenses,’’ Knocke said. “Shame on us if we don’t act to do something about it.’’