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DHS: Real ID could help shut down meth labs

Top official suggests more "secure" IDs envisioned by controversial law will help pharmacies to ferret out customers buying over-the-counter ingredients to concoct the drug.

WASHINGTON--Could a Real ID-compliant license be required in the future to buy certain over-the-counter medicines at your local drugstore?

A top Homeland Security official indicated Wednesday that the answer may be yes.

In a presentation aimed at promoting the final identification requirements released Friday, , the Homeland Security Department's assistant secretary for policy, suggested the controversial system could help federal agents combat methamphetamine production and abuse in the United States.

Baker cited , which requires pharmacies to keep tabs on how often people buy certain drugs, such as cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, that can be used to concoct the drug. The key to that process, naturally, is verifying the customer's identity through some sort of document.

"If you have a good would make it much harder for meth labs to function in this country," Baker said in a morning presentation here at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that supports Real ID.

Under the final Real ID rule, starting on May 11 (unless states request waivers, which many are expected to do), Americans will be expected to present compliant licenses for "federal purposes," which have so far focused on boarding a commercial aircraft and entering a federal building or nuclear facility. If granted extensions, states will have until 2017 to begin issuing the cards to all their residents.

Baker's comments on Wednesday hinted that the government envisions other uses for the documents. In addition to the methamphetamine issue, he also suggested Real ID could be valuable for employers trying to avoid hiring illegal immigrants who present falsified identification cards.

Supporters believe the Real ID requirements are necessary because all but one of the hijackers in the September 11 attacks relied on government-issued drivers' licenses, obtained through false pretenses, to remain in the country illegally. They also argue the forthcoming new checks on an applicant's identity before a license is issued will help to stave off identity theft.

The Real ID Act says compliant licenses must contain information typically on a driver's license--that is, a person's name, address, signature, date of birth, gender, photograph, and license number. They must also contain physical anti-counterfeiting features and use a "common, machine-readable technology," which Homeland Security decided would be a two-dimensional bar code.

The law also requires states to verify the authenticity of Real ID applicants' identity documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, against databases operated by the government agency that issued them. They must also be able to access other states motor vehicle department databases to determine whether the applicant already holds a license elsewhere.

By creating a federalized identification card and by linking government databases with sensitive information about American citizens and residents, the Real ID law has raised a wealth of privacy concerns. Some , with many citing the estimated multibillion-dollar price tag, and .

Echoing , Baker said he doesn't "understand" the civil liberties objections to the plan. "I would welcome hearing from the ACLU or other civil libertarians why they think that improving the security of drivers' licenses that people already have, making sure the data we already provide to the DMVs is kept more secure, why that's a bad thing for civil liberties," he said.