COLUMBIA -- Hours after Gov. Mark Sanford announced he would not seek an extension so the state could comply with a new federal identification law, South Carolina was granted an extension anyway.
The Department of Homeland Security, implementing an identification program called Real ID, had given states until the end of March to seek an extension. DHS had warned that, starting May 11, driver's licenses in states that had not filed for an extension would not be sufficient for airline travel or for entering federal buildings.
Sanford, declaring Real ID to be an expensive and largely unnecessary program, faced down that threat, holding a press conference Monday morning to say he would not be seeking an extension. He wrote a five-page letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff detailing his concerns about Real ID and the steps South Carolina already has taken to issue a more secure driver's license.
The governor then pointedly asked DHS to treat South Carolina as it dealt with Montana and New Hampshire, which also opposed Real ID. Those states showed what progress they were making to issue a more secure driver's license and were granted an extension.
About six hours after Sanford spoke, Chertoff gave the governor the extension he never officially sought.
"It seems clear that South Carolina is well on the way to meeting requirements comparable to those required by the final Real ID regulation," Chertoff wrote. "I will therefore treat your letter as a basis for an extension and hereby grant it."
The extension takes both Sanford and DHS off the hook. Sanford won't be blamed for travel delays and problems entering federal buildings; DHS won't be forced to impose restrictions in South Carolina it does not impose elsewhere.
The governor's stand Monday morning was cheered by those who fear Real ID will be an intrusion into their privacy, but airport officials were bracing for longer security lines and frustrated travelers.
Some cracks in DHS' stand already had begun to appear.
Larry Propes, clerk of the U.S. District Court, sent an e-mail to South Carolina lawyers a couple of days ago assuring them that their driver's licenses would be sufficient ID to allow them to enter a federal courthouse "regardless of whether South Carolina complies with the Real ID Act."
Propes said the U.S. Marshal, who provides security for federal buildings, told him a S.C. driver's license would be enough for citizens to enter a federal building even after May 11.
The governor and other opponents of the identification law say it is a deeply flawed effort that was not debated fully by Congress, would cost South Carolina $116 million to implement and would fail to provide the hoped-for increase in security. The governor also said the new law would threaten the civil liberties of citizens.
"This doesn't work on several different levels," said Sanford, whose remarks Monday were buttressed by cheers from Real ID opponents who held signs that read "No Police State," "Real ID No Privacy," and "Keep South Carolina a Sovereign State."
Chief among Sanford's concerns is his contention that DHS has not designated specific funding to help states pay for the implementation of Real ID.
"At some point," Sanford wrote Chertoff, "someone has got to draw a line in the sand with regard to unfunded federal mandates. If there was ever a federal mandate on which to draw that line in the sand, this seems to be it."
DHS has said grants are available to states to help them pay for compliance with Real ID. Sanford argued that states in hurricane-prone areas use DHS grant money for storm preparedness.
"I don't know that South Carolina will ever be hit by a terrorist," Sanford said. "But I can guarantee we will be hit by a hurricane."
Officials in many other states shared Sanford's views on Real ID but had sought an extension.
Marcia Adams, director of the S.C. DMV, said the Palmetto State already is close to compliance with Real ID.
Those seeking a driver's license in South Carolina have their picture taken after identification documents such as a birth certificate are reviewed. Real ID would require that the picture be taken first. The goal, Adams said, is to allow law enforcement to have a picture on file if someone inquires about getting a diver's license but decides against it if documentation questions arise.
Another point of noncompliance is the actual driver's license itself. South Carolina driver's licenses have "overt" and "covert" security features, those that can be seen with the naked eye and those that can be viewed only under black light.
But Adams said Real ID requires something else S.C. driver's licenses don't have a security feature that can be seen only in a laboratory.
Real ID supporters see the law as an important anti-terrorism tool that would standardize and strengthen identification procedures across the country.
Opponents believe the law represents a dangerous step toward giving the federal government the ability to track citizens.
"During World War II, the Jews were tattoed with an ID," said Bob Snyder, a 49-year-old Batesburg-Leesville resident who attended Sanford's press conference Monday. "This is the same exact thing. It's just different methodology."