Passport not required, NY launches enhanced driver's license

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New York drivers can now apply for an enhanced driver's license that will comply with tighter travel controls adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The state becomes the nation's second, after Washington state, to offer licenses that can be shown at the U.S. border instead of a more expensive passport.

The optional license will include a picture and radio frequency identification tag that can be scanned to verify a person's identity. The RFID tag will not contain any personal information, only an assigned number, authorities said.

Drivers, though, should be prepared to offer a stack of identifying paperwork when they apply for an EDL, and to spend an extra $30.

Erie County Clerk Kathleen Hochul advises drivers to make sure they have what they need before heading into the auto bureau.

"It's actually surprising, there's more information than people are going to think they need," said Hochul, who anticipates her county will issue more enhanced driver's licenses than most others because of its proximity to Canada.

Those trading in a current driver's license will need, in addition to the old license, a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, their Social Security card and two proofs of New York residency, such as recent property tax bills or credit card statements. The documents will be scanned for authenticity, a step that will add 10 to 15 minutes to the application process.

All of the licenses are produced in Albany and mailed to drivers.

"It does take more time," Hochul said. The tradeoff, she said, is preserving the ability to make spontaneous trips across the border to shop or dine when an oral declaration of citizenship and regular license is no longer enough to get through U.S. Customs.

"That's real important in an area like ours," she said.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, recommended by the 9/11 Commission, is intended to control movement across the U.S. border by verifying the citizenship and identity of everyone entering the U.S. by land, sea, or air from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

The enhanced driver's license will satisfy the land and sea requirements, which take effect June 1, 2009, but not for international air travel.

To answer concerns about the ability of hackers to intercept RFID information from the new licenses, the state is mailing each one with a protective storage sleeve that prevents transmission, said DMV spokesman Ken Brown — who stressed that the only information contained in the tag is a number that would be meaningless except to Homeland Security agents.

Gov. David Paterson has said the EDL will benefit the upstate economy by expediting trade and tourism travel between the United States and Canada. About 468,750 New York jobs are supported by Canada-U.S. trade and New York residents made 1.7 million visits to Canada in 2006, according to the state.

The EDL, which like the current licenses will be valid for up to eight years, will cost about $80, compared with $50 for a basic license and $100 for a new passport.

The state's Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, David Swarts, and Canadian and U.S. Homeland Security representatives planned to talk about the new licenses at the Peace Bridge linking Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario, on Tuesday.

Swarts' office estimates about 15 percent of New York drivers will eventually opt for the enhanced license.

The state has spent about $1 million to equip local offices for the new program and anticipates $76 million in revenues from it in the first year, DMV spokesman Ken Brown said.