Much of the opposition came from tea party Republicans who excoriated the Real ID law as an attack on privacy.
Scott Hofstra, chairman of the Central Kentucky Tea Party Patriots, said in a phone interview that his group is worried the federal bureaucrats at the top of DHS could get all kinds of information on cardholders, including medical and criminal histories.
"It takes away a lot of our privacy on the state level and gives it to the Department of Homeland Security," Hofstra said. "The head of the DHS could tell the state, 'I want you to list all their medical records on their driver's license, or criminal records on their driver's license.' That's from one unelected bureaucrat."
Hofstra, an aircraft maintenance supervisor from Vine Grove, Kentucky, said he will get a Real ID only if his job requires it. To fly, he will use a passport.
Opposition also came from liberal groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, on privacy grounds. The group contended that despite the state-by-state nature of the Real IDs, information would be "consolidated into a national database," which could be used to track individuals.
The ACLU sued to block implementation of Real ID in New Jersey. The state settled with the group in 2012, agreeing to open the process to comment and suggestions from the public about implementation procedures. The rollout was delayed.
"In 2018, we were really far behind," said B. Sue Fulton, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, in a phone interview. "We were not ready for the customer volume that would be generated by implementing Real ID."
In response, she said, the state hired 300 new full-time employees and revamped its licensing software, equipment, online services and procedures. Now, she thinks the state will have fulfilled the requirements by October next year and avoid some of the problems faced in other states, even those that started earlier.
"What gives me the confidence is that we learned so much from other states," she said. "We shouldn't have to backtrack, which some of the states had to do."
Kentucky, one of the states that resisted the law because of opposition from the tea party and other privacy advocates, is just now starting the Real ID process, with new licenses expected in January 2020.
In 2016, the Kentucky legislature passed legislation requiring the Real ID process to start. Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, vetoed it, saying "it has become increasingly clear that there is tremendous opposition and misunderstanding about the bill."
After getting a federal extension, Kentucky again passed the legislation in 2017. Bevin, to spare Kentuckians from having to carry a passport to fly after their regular license stops working at airports, finally signed it.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Naitore Djigbenou said in a phone interview that it would take two years to get Real IDs to everyone who wants one. Nonetheless, she said she was confident that all Kentuckians who want the compliant license will be able to get one before the deadline.
"We are offering two options: a Real ID or a noncompliant card. Some prefer to use a passport to continue to fly," she said. "This is completely voluntary. It's not a requirement by any means."
But Americans aren't used to carrying a passport when traveling, according to Wayne Sandford, a University of New Haven professor of homeland security and emergency management and a former deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
He said states that started issuing Real IDs early mostly have fewer problems. "The states that said, 'Nah, we're not doing it, don't worry about it, it will never be real' are in trouble.
"Now they realize their residents in their states need to have this done or carry a passport. For Americans this would be a really strange request. It's not like it's Europe where every country is a state, essentially."
Sandford speculated that once this initial period of uncertainty and bureaucratic snafus passes, Americans will be pleased with how easily the new licenses allow them to travel. And he pooh-poohs privacy concerns.
Asked if he had privacy concerns, he said in a phone interview, "being from the other side and working in homeland security at the state level, I would say no, I don't." His years of working on homeland security issues, he said, have persuaded him that the goal is smooth travel, not invasions of privacy.
"I think it will actually make travel easier."
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