Legislature Considers Maine's Compliance with Federal Real ID Law

Mar 8, 2017

A decade ago, the Maine legislature rejected a proposal to bring the state into compliance with the federal identification standards known as “Real ID.” Some now say its time that the state adopt Real ID for drivers licenses, because the feds are cracking down. But opponents cite privacy concerns.

Ten years ago, the Maine refused to adopt a similar bill that’s now before the transportation committee. But at the time, the only consequence was that Mainers with just a state driver’s license might be stopped from entering a federal facility, or boarding a plane. In testimony before the committee, Tim Doyle of the Maine Motor Transport Association says that drivers who were trying to deliver to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in January found out the feds are cracking down.

“MMTA received a call from a member the day the policy changed and the extension was no longer allowed and over the next several days we heard from trucking companies whose drivers were similarly turned away from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” Doyle says.

He says that cost those companies as they scrambled to find a driver with acceptable identification or subcontracted the delivery to meet their obligations. And there are worries it will get worse next year, when federal law will mandate that Mainers that do not have a license that meets the standards will not be allowed to board a plane. Sen. Bill Diamond, a Windham Democrat, and former Secretary of State, says that is one reason he sponsored the legislation to bring Maine in to compliance.

“Restrictions, barriers and hassles that will rain down on our helpless citizens, our businesses and veterans will be devastating,” says Diamond. “And we as lawmakers will have no place to turn when our people back home look us in the eye and ask why.”

And as they were a decade ago, lawmakers are split over the issue. Sen. Shenna Bellows, a Democrat from Manchester who served as director of the ACLU of Maine, told the committee that privacy is her major concern. Once a database has been created, she says, it is vulnerable to computer hackers.

“Quite frankly its madness for the state of Maine to spend millions of tax payer dollars to set up what would be a treasure trove for identity thieves, with any centralized data base, whether it is national or local,” says Bellows.

And Maine’s current Secretary of State, Matt Dunlap, is also opposed to adopting Real ID. He fears that once a national system is created the federal government may expand the information it wants collected from applicants seeking a Maine license.

“Later, homeland security may well decide they also need a thumbprint, maybe an iris scan, maybe a component that includes a DNA sequence, maybe a complete breakdown of your status and history as a voter,” says Dunlap. “Or whether or not you have a class three federal firearms license or any firearms at all.”

The Transportation Committee will now consider the measure and consider possible changes floated at the hearing, such as an “opt out” provision that would allow Mainers to choose not to get a federally complaint license. If the debate a decade ago is any indication, this will be a hotly debated issue once it makes it to the full legislature.