ALEX CHADWICK, host:
You've probably heard of the REAL ID. That's the proposed nationwide identity card program, comes from Homeland Security. It's run into a lot of opposition from gun owners to civil rights groups, and now the Maine state legislature.
Maine Public Radio's Fred Bever reports.
FRED BEVER: REAL ID, which kicks in next year, is intended to stop terrorists from using state identification that could help them carry out plots like the September 11th attacks. It sets minimum standards for identification cards needed to get on an airplane or into a federal building. The program would link states' databases and require that personal data be encoded on a drivers license in a magnetic strip or even a radio frequency chip. Opponents say that's a temptation for tech-savvy thieves.
Ms. SHENNA BELLOWS (Maine Civil Liberties Union): These are my keys. I have a key to my home, a key to my office, a key to my car. Why don't I have a single key? For security purposes.
Mr. BEVER: Shenna Bellows is executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, one of a wide range of groups working to change or even repeal the REAL ID Act. Bellows helps get the Maine legislature to formally oppose the law this week. She says a REAL ID card could become a master key to a citizen's life, one easily stolen.
Ms. BELLOWS: What the REAL ID does is collect information - that yes, it's publicly available, but in disparate places and compiles it into one database. The REAL ID is a one stop shop for identity thieves.
Mr. BEVER: The Department of Homeland Security has yet to spell out how exactly the program will operate. Some opponents fear it's tantamount to a national identification system, one that might eventually allow Big Brother to track a citizen's every move. George Smith is president of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, a powerful state hunting lobby. He says REAL ID is just one in a growing list of government intrusions.
MR. GEORGE SMITH (Sportsman's Alliance of Maine): I've been upset that the government thought they could open my mail and read it and then listen to my phone calls and record those, and I think sometimes people think we're paranoid to distrust the government. But in fact, since the 9-1-1, we've been trading freedom for security. And it's a bad bargain.
Mr. BEVER: Yet many lawmakers around the country are not as concerned about totalitarian nightmares as they are about the bottom line. Estimates of the measure's price tag rise as high as $11 billion nationally, $185 million for Maine alone. License fees could shoot above $100 in some states. And Maine State Senator Bill Diamond has another pragmatic concern, one that's the bane of drivers everywhere, time-consuming lines at the local motor vehicle office.
State Senator BILL DIAMOND (Democrat, Maine): This, without a doubt, will lengthen that time.
Mr. BEVER: On Thursday, Maine lawmakers from both parties overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution calling on Congress to repeal the REAL ID law and stating Maine's intent to refuse compliance. That puts Maine in the lead among at least six states that are considering such measures.
Yet a handful of states are embracing the law, working up legislation and funds needed to comply. And one congressional backer says it's a mistake for states to thumb their noses at REAL ID. Congressman Lamar Smith is a Texas Republican.
Representative LAMAR SMITH (Republican, Texas): Don't we want to make America safer? Don't we want to make it harder for terrorists to use drivers licenses that are fraudulent to move around the country? I think the American people do appreciate what the federal government is doing.
Mr. BEVER: Besides, Smith says, there's nothing in the law mandating that states comply. Opponents say it will feel like a mandate if you're trying to board an airplane and you don't have a REAL ID.
For NPR News, I'm Fred Bever in Augusta, Maine.
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