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Senate approves electronic ID card bill

Last-minute attempt fails to derail the bill, which with President Bush's signature would require federalized IDs for all Americans.

Last-minute attempts by online activists to halt an electronic ID card failed Tuesday when the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to impose a sweeping set of identification requirements on Americans.

The so-called Real ID Act now heads to President Bush, who is expected to sign the bill into law this month. Its backers, including the Bush administration, say it's needed to stop illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers' licenses.

If the act's mandates take effect in May 2008, as expected, Americans will be required to obtain federally approved ID cards with "machine readable technology" that abides by Department of Homeland Security specifications. Anyone without such an ID card will be effectively prohibited from traveling by air or Amtrak, opening a bank account, or entering federal buildings.

After the Real ID Act's sponsors glued it to an Iraq military spending bill, final passage was all but guaranteed. Yet that didn't stop a dedicated cadre of privacy activists from trying to raise the alarm in the last few days.

UnRealID.com, which calls the legislation a "national ID card," says that more than 10,800 people filled out its online petition to senators.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation hastily created a "Stop The Real ID Act!" campaign last week, and the ACLU denounced the bill as a measure that would create "a system ripe for identity theft." Security guru Bruce Schneier offered his own negative critique.

If the Real ID Act had been a standalone piece of legislation--instead of being embedded in an unrelated military spending bill--its passage in the Senate might have been less certain.

The House approved it in February by a relatively narrow vote of 261-161, and some senators had condemned it. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., warned last month that the Real ID Act creates "de facto national ID cards" and the National Immigration Law Center said it will make it harder even for legal immigrants and citizens to get drivers' licenses.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and Real ID Act sponsor, applauded the Senate vote on Tuesday. "The Real ID is vital to preventing foreign terrorists from hiding in plain sight while conducting their operations and planning attacks," Sensenbrenner said. "By targeting terrorist travel, the Real ID will assist in our war-on-terror efforts to disrupt terrorist operations and help secure our borders."