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Homeland security to repeal national ID law

The Obama administration wants to replace the controversial Bush initiative with a cheaper, less rigorous ID program.

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Instead, it adds stronger privacy controls and limits such development to a pilot program in Mississippi. DHS would have nine months to write new regulations and states would have five years to reissue all licenses, with completion expected in 2016.

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Supporters saw a slimmer measure as better than nothing. But critics said the changes gut the law, weakening tools to fight fraud and learn whether bad drivers, drug runners or counterfeiters have licenses in more than one state.

"Real ID, not a gutted version with a tough-sounding name, is necessary to continue to keep us safe," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee. "Any attempt to repeal or weaken (Real ID) will harm national security."

The new plan would still let people get licenses with fake documents, said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., who authored the 2005 legislation. "We go right back to where we were on Sept. 10, 2001," he said, "Maybe governors should have been in the Capitol when we knew a plane was on its way to Washington wanting to kill a few thousand more people."

Pass ID also penalizes states that have spent millions to digitize their records, rewards laggards with federal funds and makes new requirements unenforceable, foes said.

For example, the new bill kills provisions that would have required the new IDs to board airplanes and that IDs that did not comply with the requirements feature a different color or design.

Meanwhile, privacy groups also objected, saying Real ID should just be killed.

"We don't want to end up with National ID Lite," said Chris Calabrese, counsel to the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the plan is "a lot softer" but will still leave more Americans' personal data subject to theft and misuse.

Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, the bill's sponsors, are seeking support from Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins of Maine, the chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, on the Senate homeland security committee, and other centrist lawmakers. So far, no other Republicans have signed on.