By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials said they would unveil on Friday reasonable and inexpensive national requirements to implement an identification-card program critics call a costly invasion of privacy.
The program, called Real ID, has been rejected by 17 states based on draft regulations. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he would announce on Friday revised rules that reflect state concerns.
“We have worked very closely with the states in terms of developing a plan that I think will be quite inexpensive, reasonable to implement and produce … secure identification when drivers’ licenses are presented,” Chertoff said on Thursday to a panel of outside advisers to his department.
He gave no details, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sharply criticized the draft program, said it had no information on any revisions.
The U.S. Congress in 2005 passed a law calling for the national digital identification system. It is intended as a post-September 11 security measure to make more secure the state-issued driver’s licenses that are a ubiquitous form of identification in the United States.
The licenses will be required for boarding a commercial flight and entering a federal facility or a nuclear power plant.
Under the program, states would be required to verify documents presented with license applications and to link their license databases into a national electronic network.
Critics say the program will amount to a national identification card — which Americans have long opposed as a symbol of an overly powerful federal government — and that the national network could compromise the privacy of the ID-card holders.
States have objected because they would bear the costs to implement the program.
Some 227 million people hold drivers’ licenses or identity cards given out by U.S. states, which issue or renew about 70 million each year.
States are intended to begin issuing the new licenses by May of this year, but the Homeland Security Department says they will be able to file for an extension. Individuals are required to carry cards meeting the new standards by May 2013.