DOJ: News Release

State to DHS: Montana Licenses Among Most Secure in Country

HELENA – Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security clarifying that Montana has already developed a secure process to get and a keep a Montana driver license, and that the state’s citizens should not be penalized under the federal REAL ID Act.

In the letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, McGrath wrote, “I urge your department not to take any steps that would penalize Montanans’ ability to use their valid Montana driver licenses for federal identification purposes and commercial air travel.”

“Montana law forbids any state agency from implementing the REAL ID Act,” McGrath said. “Nonetheless, it would be ridiculous to penalize Montana travelers with secondary screening or additional document requirements when we have one of the most advanced, secure licenses in the nation.”

Under the REAL ID Act, states must meet standards related to:

  • information and security features that must be incorporated into each card
  • proof of identity and U.S. citizenship or legal status of an applicant and
  • verification of source documents provided by an applicant.

With the approval of the Montana Legislature, the state has independently taken a number of steps over the last six years to guarantee the validity and enhance the security of the Montana license, McGrath noted. These include:

  • training personnel to identify fraudulent documents;
  • requiring evidence of immigration status from applicants;
  • photographing applicants for licenses, even if they do not complete the application process, and using digital photography to ensure that an applicant does not have more than one license.

The letter to DHS also notes that Montana continues to implement the MERLIN Project. MERLIN – Montana Enhanced Registration and Licensing Information Network – will link together all motor vehicle and driving record information into a single database. For example, when a Montanan registers a vehicle, renews a driver license or titles a new vehicle, all of the names, addresses and other relevant information will be in a single unique account.

MERLIN was first approved by the 2003 Legislature and is funded by a secure Montana Board of Investments Intercap loan. The estimated total cost is $28.5 million. In 2007, lawmakers resoundingly supported legislation to continue funding for the MERLIN Project, passing House Bill 90 by margins of 88-12 in the House and 48-2 in the Senate.

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