The U.S. Senate has approved the Real ID Act, which mandates federal standards for driver's licenses.
Under the law, if states do not conform to the new standards, federal agencies cannot accept their driver's licenses as IDs. And that means citizens of those states would likely be barred from boarding a plane, getting into a federal building or doing anything else connected to the federal government that requires an ID.
In addition, the bill would effectively stop any state from issuing a driver's license to illegal immigrants. The measure requires proof that a person is in the country legally before that person can get a license.
The Senate unanimously approved the measure, which passed the House last week. President George W. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.
The bill also contains measures that worry privacy advocates. It would require all licenses to contain certain information - much of which is already common to driver's licenses. But it would also require every license to carry a "common machine-readable technology" - such as a computer chip that would carry all the license information.
Some are concerned that the bill will create what is, for all practical purposes, a federal identification card.
"The ID would essentially be an internal passport that would be shown before accessing planes, trains, national parks, and court houses," a statement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a national privacy watchdog group, said. That would make the new licenses "an irresistible target for forgers and identity thieves."
The measure is also likely to create some additional hassle for drivers at the DMV when they get or renew their licenses. Under the bill, license applicants would have to have a photo ID, a birth certificate, proof of their Social Security number and another document that verifies their name and address.
States would have three years to comply with all of the bill's requirements. Some state governments and other critics of the bill have derided it as an unfunded federal mandate, with some estimates placing the cost to states at a half billion dollars.
The legislation does not specifically address commercial driver's licenses.
- By Mark Reddig, associate editor