TRU-ID violates NJ law, privacy rights, and public trust

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced today that it filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Mercer County on Friday and won a court order to restrict the implementation of the state’s new TRU-ID licensing program, which was scheduled to go into effect today. The lawsuit asserts that the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) violated New Jersey’s Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates that any new rule or regulation requires, at a minimum, public notice and the chance for citizen review.

"Implementing TRU-ID without any involvement from the public isn’t just undemocratic – it’s also in violation of New Jersey laws,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas, who argued the case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “The State of New Jersey has infringed upon the rights of every citizen in New Jersey by deciding to radically change our ID system by fiat instead of through the democratic process.”

Prior to taking the matter to court, the ACLU-NJ attempted to address its concerns with the MVC, sending a letter outlining the civil liberties, safety and cost issues with TRU-ID, requesting a meeting prior to the implementation to discuss these issues, and making an open records request for more information which received a skeletal response.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Paul Innes issued an order that restricts the MVC from requiring citizens to obtain a TRU-ID, and held that the agency must allow applicants the option of obtaining a driver's license or state ID under the 6-Point license system that has been the law in New Jersey for almost a decade. The order also prohibits the MVC from making copies of Social Security cards, birth certificates, passports or other identification documents, as the copying of records is also not authorized under current regulations.

The ACLU-NJ and the MVC are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 3 to present oral arguments about the matter. The judge's order holds that injunction will remain in place at least until that time.

The state released minimal information about TRU-ID just a few weeks before the planned implementation. It did not seek any input from the public, legislators or stakeholders. The MVC said the new program was necessary to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which seeks to create a national identification card and make it mandatory for anyone who wants to board a commercial airline or enter a federal building. But the federal act is unenforceable - at least 25 states have opted out of Real ID, with 15 of them passing legislation making it illegal for their state governments to participate. The states saying no to Real ID may soon grow to 26; a bill rejecting Real ID implementation currently sits on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s desk for him to sign into law.

“TRU-ID is a half-baked plan to implement the half-dead Real ID Act,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, also the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Her current license expires June 30. "The state is trying to slip this under the radar without allowing the public the opportunity to see how much TRU-ID will cost in terms of our rights, our privacy and our wallets."

In addition to privacy concerns, the ACLU-NJ’s lawsuit also addresses the potential impact of TRU-ID on some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities with regard to civil rights and personal safety. The regulation’s requirement that all documents, including birth certificates, be in English imposes a burden on anyone born in a non-English speaking country. Likewise, the homeless will have difficulty proving their citizenship. In addition, it is uncertain whether there are exceptions for victims of domestic violence, who are currently allowed to use an alternate address for all state and local government purposes, rather than their actual home addresses, which could jeopardize their safety.

Although the MVC has stated it is not yet ready to start scanning documents, TRU-ID and Real ID systems require citizens to turn over copies of their personal documents to the government, which will be maintained indefinitely in a government database. Because no regulations have been released publicly, New Jerseyans have no assurance that the information maintained on the license itself or in the databases of the state government will have protection from identity thieves or other threats.

At the hearing on Friday, Judge Innes noted that the state does not have the authority to require driver's license applicants to turn over documents with their full Social Security numbers, but that that the state was now attempting to do just that under the TRU-ID system. The ACLU-NJ, the judge ruled, "has a very good likelihood of success" on the merits of its claims.

Although the state has not shared the costs of TRU-ID with the public, the MVC said in a 2006 report that implementation of Real ID “imposes severe logistical and financial requirements” upon New Jersey. Moreover, the costs to implement Real ID may not even be necessary. In 2008, after 25 states outright refused to comply with Real ID, the Department of Homeland Security released regulations acknowledging that it could not enforce Real ID compliance.

“When the MVC rolled out its 6-Point ID verification in 2003, it bragged that the IDs met the standards of the Department of Homeland Security” said Jacobs. “We shouldn’t waste New Jersey tax dollars on a moribund program that Americans on all sides have rejected.” The case, captioned ACLU-NJ v. Martinez, is being heard in Mercer County Superior Court.

You can read the complaint (4.5mb PDF), which provides more comprehensive details about the pitfalls of TRU-ID. You can read more about the Real ID Act at the ACLU’s national site,