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Feds say they'll give MN time to upgrade IDs for flights

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Travelers at Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport
Department of Homeland Security officials told state lawmakers Tuesday that the deadline to comply with federal ID requirements won't come immediately in 2016.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News file

U.S. officials said Tuesday that Minnesota will have time to approve standards for state driver's licenses so they can continue to be used as identification to board domestic flights, though it's unclear whether legislators will act.

Minnesota is one of four states that haven't begun implementing IDs that comply with the Real ID Act, passed by Congress after Sept. 2005 to boost security and deter identity fraud. The final stage of the law's rollout requires the new IDs for passengers boarding domestic flights, raising an alarm that Minnesota residents may need to present a passport or an enhanced driver's license.

The Legislature blocked the state from using Real IDs in 2009, citing privacy concerns. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security met with Minnesota lawmakers on Tuesday and tried to assuage concerns that the federal government would have access to residents' information. Federal officials portrayed the Real ID as a set of minimum security requirements, not a federally controlled system.

"We're not asking Minnesota to turn over the keys to your information," said Ted Sobel, director of the department's Office of State Issued ID Support.

The Department of Homeland Security won't announce the cutoff date for old state IDs until later this year. Assistant Secretary Philip McNamara said it "won't be Jan. 1 or Jan. 15" and that Minnesota officials will have time to get its driver's license in line with federal standards.

Gov. Mark Dayton has called on lawmakers to step in.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said it seems like a commonsense upgrade to identify travelers and said he was swayed by the assurance that it wouldn't put Minnesota residents' information in federal hands.

But Sen. Warren Limmer and Senate Minority Leader David Hann doubted whether the new IDs would improve security. The pair of Republican senators also questioned whether airport officials would, in fact, turn away flyers without the improved IDs if Minnesota doesn't act.

"I don't think that's going to happen," Hann said.