MCLU Applauds Senators Collins and Snowe for Defending Mainers’ Right to Fly

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
March 13, 2008 12:00 am

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Senators’ Letter Shows Leadership in Rejecting Arbitrary REAL ID deadline

PORTLAND – The Maine Civil Liberties Union today praised Maine’s two Senators for calling on the Department of Homeland Security to scrap its May deadline for compliance with the controversial REAL ID program.

“Senators Collins and Snowe publicly recognized that Homeland Security’s May 11 deadline is both arbitrary and unfair,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the MCLU. “We commend our Senators for standing up on behalf of Mainers’ privacy against the federal government’s fear-mongering.”

Senators Snowe and Collins, along with five other Senators including New Hampshire Senator John Sununu and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy wrote to Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, asking him to scrap the May 11 deadline for compliance with the controversial REAL ID program which would require states to spend millions to alter their drivers’ license system, and link residents’ personal information into a national data base. The states have been facing an earlier March 31 deadline to ask for a “waiver” which would essentially indicate compliance with the REAL ID program. Maine is one of four states that has courageously rejected compliance by refusing to solicit a waiver.

In the strongly worded letter, the Senators highlighted the Constitutional problems with REAL ID, as well as criticizing the Department’s haphazard method of implementation.

“These regulations raise disturbing Constitutional issues regarding the ability of some citizens to travel freely and access their federal government,” the Senators wrote.

They also questioned the Department’s inconsistent method of granting the waivers, which has resulted in more than 40 states getting the waivers, despite the fact that some of their Legislatures have voted against compliance with the program.

“This sparingly applied regulation imposes undue burdens on Americans from states that have not received an extension while doing nothing to improve the security of the traveling public or our nation’s critical infrastructure,” the letter continued.

In their letter, the Senators said Homeland Security acknowledges that none of the states will actually comply with legislative identification requirements until at least the end of 2009. And full implementation of Real ID is on hold until 2017.

The Senators suggested that due to the uneven compliance with the regulations that the Department simply grant an extension to all the states. If Chertoff does not scrap the deadline, they want him to answer a list of specific questions about the details and the implementation of the REAL ID progam.

Last year Maine passed a law against participating in the program, citing its enormous cost and concern about the impact on Mainers’ privacy and civil liberties. Several other state Legislatures also passed laws that forbid compliance with the program.

Secretary Chertoff had threatened states who do not meet the waiver deadline that their residents will not be able to board airplanes or enter federal buildings without secondary screenings after May 11. Montana, Maine, and South Carolina have rejected the federal government’s fear tactics and remained strong in their commitment to oppose REAL ID. A fourth state, New Hampshire, sought a waiver but expressed their objection to REAL ID, and the federal government has not yet accepted that request for waiver.

Also signing the letter to Secretary Chertoff were New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, a Republican, and Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. A copy of the letter is available upon request.

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