WASHINGTON—Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday held a hearing, “Identification Security: Reevaluating the REAL ID Act,” which examined problems with implementation of the REAL ID Act and looked at proposed legislation, the Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification (PASS ID) Act of 2009, S. 1261, to address those problems.

 “I took very seriously the findings of the 9/11 Commission that all but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some kind of U.S. identification and that is why Senator Collins and I ensured that there was a collaborative process in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to create national identification security standards,” Lieberman said. “If we had followed through on that process instead of passing the REAL ID Act, we would have more secure IDs today, instead of continuing to debate. 

“The 9/11 Commission warned us that ‘for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.’  We cannot ignore the fact that the legislatures of 13 states have passed laws prohibiting their states from complying with REAL ID as it presently stands.  We must work with the states to help them create secure identification documents, while still protecting privacy concerns and ensuring that states can comply.  There are changes we can make to the PASS ID Act so that it meets these goals.”

Senator Collins said she supports many provisions of the PASS ID Act, but told Secretary Napolitano that she remains troubled with language in the bill that could result in “unintended consequences.”  The DHS secretary agreed to reexamine that area of the proposal.

            “Drives’ licenses can be the ‘keys to the kingdom’ for terrorists bent on death and destruction and states have a responsibility to ensure licenses are tamper-proof and issued only to people whose identity and legal status can be verified,” Collins said in her opening statement.  However, she said, “certain language in the PASS ID Act may undermine that goal because it would not allow TSA to prevent a passenger from boarding a plane based ‘solely’ on the fact that he or she did not have a compliant license.”  Unless that wording is changed, Collins told Napolitano, “I think you’re creating a situation where a security official feels he or she has no choice but to let the person board the plane.”

            Creating secure identification documents, and setting a standard for their issuance, was a key recommendation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission).  The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 included language by Lieberman and Collins that required the Secretaries of Transportation and Homeland Security to establish minimum standards through a negotiated rulemaking process.  This requirement was replaced by the REAL ID Act of 2005.

            Witnesses were: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano; Vermont Governor Jim Douglas; Former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Stewart A. Baker; Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Los Angeles County, California; David Quam, National Governors Association, Director of Federal Relations; and Ari Schwartz, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Center for Democracy and Technology.  Lieberman said at the hearing that he hopes to have Committee action on the PASS ID Act before the end of the month.