AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that’s sponsored by an independent and has bipartisan support would repeal some requirements under the federal Real ID law in hopes of protecting the privacy of Maine residents.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s office said Wednesday that he is also interested in working toward passage of Portland independent Rep. Ben Chipman’s bill, which is scheduled for a hearing Thursday before the Transportation Committee.
The federal Real ID law, first passed in 2005, was meant to bolster homeland security against terrorists. The law also imposed a number of requirements on states, but critics say many of those requirements violate privacy protections.
Supporters of the Maine repeal bill say that federal implementation of Real ID has stalled largely due to negative reaction from states. But they say it’s important to keep pressure on the federal government until the law is repealed.
“Real ID doesn’t work on a very fundamental level,” former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said at a news conference Wednesday. He said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists did not enter the United States with bogus driver’s licenses, which are a focus of the Real ID requirements. Rather, they entered with documents that had been issued by the federal government, he said.
Charlie Summers, Maine’s current secretary of state, also supports the bill, and three legislative leaders from both parties are co-sponsoring it.
The Maine Civil Liberties Union is pushing for passage because it’s concerned about “surveillance components” of the Real ID law, including a facial recognition surveillance system and placement of personal information in a national database.
“Real ID makes us vulnerable to bureaucratic error, identity theft and abuse of power by the government on a grand scale,” warned Alysia Melnick, the MCLU’s public policy counsel.
LePage said in a statement that he supports protections that prevent Social Security numbers and digital images collected by the secretary of state to be shared upon request, sold or stored in central databases. The governor also is wary of the impact advances in biometric technology may one day have on personal privacy.
Dunlap said one of the big worries about Real ID is that personal information would be screened against a national database when driver’s licenses are renewed.
“Once you put this tool in place, somebody’s going to want to use it for some other purpose,” Dunlap said.