Homeland Security willing to work on "enhanced" driver's licenses

08/22/07 10:41AM By Ross Sneyd
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(Host) Rules that are due to go into effect next year would require anyone entering the United States by land or by sea to present a passport.

But most Vermonters don't have a passport.

So, Vermont has been urging the Department of Homeland Security to accept driver's licenses, instead. And Homeland Security says it's willing to work with the state to develop "enhanced" licenses.

VPR's Ross Sneyd reports:

(Sneyd) This summer, there have been times when it's taken an hour or more to get across the border between Vermont and Quebec.

Business and political leaders say those waits will be even worse when a passport is required.

Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge says an enhanced license would make crossing the border quick and simple.

(Rutledge) "Obviously it would benefit everyone if we did have that type of license because if all of a sudden for some reason you had to go into Canada and you didn't have a passport or that type of license then you'd have to wait to get one."

(Sneyd) A lot of details remain to be worked out about the new license.

DMV would require people getting the new version to show proof of citizenship and their legal immigration status. They'd also have to get the license in person.

Rutledge says it still hasn't been decided whether everyone will be required to get the new enhanced version. It also hasn't been decided how much the new licenses will cost.

Some of those unanswered questions are what worries Allen Gilbert, who heads the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He says enhanced licenses would have a technology that emits a radio frequency, which could be picked up by people other than just the government.

(Gilbert) "Although there is a lot of debate about how widespread abuse of that system could be, at the present time, I think there's enough disagreement about who would be able to read the card by picking up the radio signal that I wouldn't want to be carrying one of those things in my pocket."

(Sneyd) Commissioner Rutledge says she's confident the enhanced licenses wouldn't carry identifying information that could be tracked by anyone who shouldn't have it.

Advocates of the change say the benefit of the licenses may outweigh concerns.

Bill Stenger is president of Jay Peak Resort, which relies heavily on customers crossing the nearby border.

He says three out of four Vermonters don't have passports, so having an enhanced driver's license in lieu of a passport would make crossing the border much easier.

But he says four out of five Canadians don't have passports, either, and Vermont relies on their business.

(Stenger) "Canada's our biggest trading partner in Vermont. The Canadian guests from Quebec and Ontario need to have a smooth, efficient way to get into the United States."

(Sneyd) Even for Vermonters, though, it's going to be a while before the enhanced licenses can replace passports.

The new system would be a big jump for a state that still issues licenses without photographs.

DMV says it doesn't expect to be able to issue the new licenses until the end of 2008.

The Department of Homeland Security says passports will be required at the border by the middle of next year.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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