An Anchorage travel agent is suing the state Division of Motor Vehicles in Juneau Superior Court, claiming that the agency has breached privacy rights by illegally implementing stricter requirements for new Alaskans to acquire driver's licenses.
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"This is the most important thing that Alaskans have never heard of," said Bill Scannell, a privacy advocate and spokesman for The Identity Project, an organization backing the lawsuit.
The action is part of a national debate over the Real ID Act, which was signed into law by President Bush on May 11, 2005.
The contentious program has drawn heat from the nation's privacy advocates because it creates a uniform set of standards for state driver's licenses and identification cards. It also allows the information to be shared between states and the federal government.
The suit, which was filed in Juneau Superior Court on March 1 by Sarah "Sally" Huntley, alleges that the state Department of Administration and Division of Motor Vehicles Director Duane Bannock broke the department's own rules in 2006 by implementing tougher requirements for Alaskans renewing or newcomers acquiring a license.
The requirements include showing proof of legal residence, which can include a certified copy of a birth certificate or passport.
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"As of 1 July, it is a pain in the ass to get a driver's license," Scannell said.
Last year, Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, introduced legislation that would have required similar documentation and also would have given the DMV authority to determine what kind of identification it would require. The bill passed in the Senate but later died in the House.
A few weeks later, Bannock opted to change the rules anyway, Scannell said.
"What he decided was he didn't really need the Legislature. He violated the state's own administrative rules," Scannell said.
Bannock said Monday that because of the pending suit, he would not comment.
Supporters of the program say it can help crack down on terrorism.
"For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons," says the Department of Homeland Security's Web site.
Privacy advocates say the measure actually puts citizens at risk as their private information could be more easily leaked.
"We are having to give up too much in the name of security as far as our personal rights are concerned," Huntley said. "I honestly feel that people went overboard in the name of security. I think security has made us less safe."
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and chairman of the Alaska Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation similar to Huggins'.
"It is just common sense to me that if the person doesn't have the right to be walking on our highways, why would they have a legal right to be driving?" he said.
The bill also would require that temporary identification cards be issued with an expiration date that coincides with a foreigner's length of stay in the United States.
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That legislation was scheduled to be heard at 8 a.m. in the Alaska Affairs Committee today.
Last week, the Bush administration agreed to give states an extra 18 months to comply with the Real ID Act. A handful of states have passed legislation opposing the program.
The DMV has included in its 2007 budget a $125,000 expenditure to pay for high-speed desktop scanners, which would help the state feed information into a national database.
Privacy advocates hope the suit will at least prompt discussion about whether Alaskans approve of Real ID and if so, how they want to go about implementing it.
"We all think it should at least be discussed. What we are asking for in the lawsuit is to nuke out these Real ID provisions and at the same time order that no such further changes can be made until further legislation," Scannell said.
"I've talked to Mr. Bannock but neither he nor I believe that (this lawsuit) has merit," Lynn said.
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