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Homeland Security to press ahead with Real ID

Federal agency plans to release new rules Friday that would reportedly delay onset of controversial requirements and cut costs to states. Will critics be satisfied?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday plans to take the next step in getting its controversial Real ID plan off the ground, despite opposition from numerous states and privacy groups.

At a midday press conference in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is scheduled to take the wraps off final regulations for the electronic identification card mandate and to make another pitch for the scheme's perceived importance in keeping Americans safe from terrorist threats.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The new rules, which are a few months behind schedule, are supposed to build on a draft version released last March for public comment.

Chertoff himself has been mum on the details ahead of his public appearance Friday. But according to anonymous sources cited by the Associated Press and The Washington Post, the department has made at least one significant change to its earlier plans: pushing back the deadlines by which the new identification cards will be required to board airplanes and enter federal buildings.

Before, Homeland Security had envisioned requiring the IDs to be in place, starting May 11, 2008--and no later than 2013--unless states had applied for an extension.

But under the new rules, Americans won't be expected to present Real ID-compliant identification cards until 2014. Even then, the mandate will apply only to Americans younger than 50 at the time, in an apparent effort to give some disgruntled state motor vehicle departments more time to issue the licenses. The requirements would be broadened to all Americans by 2017.

"We've worked very closely with the states, in terms of developing a plan that I think will be quite inexpensive, reasonable to implement, and produce the results that...are a part of the core recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which is secure identification when driver's licenses are presented," Chertoff said Thursday, according to a transcript of his remarks, at a meeting of departmental advisers.

Largely because of the price tag, 17 states have already enacted legislation rejecting the Real ID requirements, which Congress passed as part of an emergency spending bill in 2005, and several others were considering such a step, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the most prominent voices against the plan. But according to the AP and the Post, federal officials have somehow devised a way to reduce the expected $14 billion in costs to states to $3.9 billion under the revised rules.

It's unclear how the department plans to assuage security and privacy concerns about the cards, including whether data encoded on their two-dimensional bar codes will be encrypted to guard against misuse. The AP reported that states will have a "menu" of security options from which to choose but will not be required to embed "microchips"--ostensibly a reference to radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology, which, depending on the type, could be read either from a distance or close-up.

Update: Click here to read our follow-up story, featuring Secretary Chertoff's remarks about the final rules and reactions from state officials, privacy groups, and members of Congress.