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New York DMV Officials And NYCLU Say Driver’s License Law Will Be Costly, Impractical

Newly obtained documents reveal that New York state officials are concerned that the federal Real ID Act will require extensive changes to existing practices at the Department of Motor Vehicles, will be extremely difficult to implement by the Act’s deadline, and will carry heavy expenses to be absorbed by New York taxpayers and license applicants.

The Act, passed by Congress last spring, imposes federal regulations on the design, issuance and management of state driver’s licenses — turning them, for all practical purposes, into federal identity papers.

“Real ID is a stealth program to create a national ID card that will threaten privacy and strip many immigrants the right to drive legally,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Now we’re learning from DMV officials that it’s entirely impractical as well.”

The documents are part of a national survey of state motor vehicle officials’ preparation for complying with Real ID that was conducted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). The documents were first reported today by the Associated Press.

A copy of New York’s response to the survey, obtained by the NYCLU, showed that implementations of the Real ID Act in New York will mean higher taxes and fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the DMV, bureaucratic snafus, and, for some, the inability to obtain a license. DMV officials in New York expressed particular concerns about:

  • issuing temporary driver’s licenses, which would require changes to approximately seventeen systems that process them;
  • capturing and retaining digital images of identity source documents, which would necessitate extensive new programming, equipment purchases, image storage, software licenses, and maintenance fees; and
  • creating a new license database to contain a person’s full legal name rather than abbreviations as currently used.

“This document is a cry for help on the part of DMV officials,” said Udi Ofer, Senior Legislative Counsel at the NYCLU. “State officials are right to be concerned. Federal lawmakers need to revisit this law, which was rammed through Congress without hearings or an up-or-down vote.”
The national survey responses showed that the concerns expressed by New York officials are broadly shared by motor vehicles administrators around the United States. For example, no state that responded to the survey seems to believe it is possible in the near future to link all the motor vehicle information databases between all states, as the statute requires. And 3 in 4 states reacted with “medium” to “high” concern to Real ID’s extensive new document-verification requirements, which they said would involve major systems changes and increased hiring.

“Congress needs to do this right and actually hold hearings, listen to all the different interests and real-world practical difficulties, and give it an up-or-down vote, none of which happened when it was rammed through last spring,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the national ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “New Yorkers need to join with others around the country and help block this disastrous law before it’s too late.”

New York’s response to the AAMVA survey along with other documents is online at

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