What is REAL ID?
Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards. States have made considerable progress in meeting this key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and every state has a more secure driver’s license today than before the passage of the Act.
Real ID also requires states to share their databases of driver information with other states. The information-sharing provisions are a big reason why some privacy groups opposed the law, saying it would effectively be the equivalent of a national identification card.
The federal government can’t force state licensing agencies to change their practices to conform to Real ID standards. But it can stop those with state-issued IDs from using them to enter federal facilities, such as military bases, or to board commercial planes. The renewed push for compliance comes at a time when concerns about terrorism are again high due to recent bloody attacks in Paris and California.
The law was originally scheduled to go into effect in 2008 but was subject to repeated delays. In recent months, DHS has been telling states those delays are over and that the law will be implemented in 2016. However, any restrictions on air travel won’t go into place without at least 120 days’ notice, and no state has received such a notice yet. In several states, however, restrictions on entering federal buildings could kick in as early as January 10.
Do I need a passport for domestic air travel starting January 2016?
A: No. DHS is in the process of scheduling plans for implementing REAL ID enforcement at airports. DHS will ensure that the traveling public has ample notice (at least, 120 days) before any changes are made that might affect their travel planning.
Until enforcement at the airports begins, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will continue to accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards from all states, as well other forms of acceptable identification listed on the TSA website.
Is REAL ID a national identification card?
No. REAL ID is not a national identification card. States and territories will continue to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards, and there is no Federal database of driver information. Each jurisdiction will issue its own unique license and maintain its own records.
According to recent DHS data, most states are either in compliance with Real ID or have made enough progress that DHS has granted them extensions until at least October.
However, nine states and several US territories are due to have their exemption expire on January 10, 2016. The states facing a January expiration are Alaska, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Washington. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands face the same deadline. Minnesota and American Samoa are already listed as non-compliant.
Those states facing the deadline shouldn’t be hopeful for a last-minute reprieve. Local and AP news reports say that DHS has already told officials in Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington that their requests for additional extensions have been denied.
“As we continue the phased-in enforcement of the REAL ID Act, the consequences of continued noncompliance will grow with each milestone,” the department said in its letter to Missouri, reported last week by The Associated Press.
If I am flying with a minor, do they need identification?
The Transportation Security Administration does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. The companion will need acceptable identification.
REAL ID does NOT apply to the following:
- Entering Federal facilities that do not require a person to present identification
- Voting or registering to vote
- Applying for or receiving Federal benefits
- Being licensed by a state to drive
- Accessing Health or life preserving services (including hospitals and health clinics), law enforcement, or constitutionally protected activities (including a defendant’s access to court proceedings)
- Participating in law enforcement proceedings or investigations
Update 12/30: On Dec. 30, a California DMV spokesperson informed Ars that state has also received an extension until October. Also, DHS updated the states’ statuses on December 29, showing that Alaska, New Jersey, and South Carolina have all received extensions until October. That leaves Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, and Washington as the five remaining states subject to enforcement.
In some states, the reason for lack of compliance isn’t incompetence or bungling, but active opposition. Missouri passed a law in 2009 forbidding state officials from implementing the law. The same year, Minnesota lawmakers not only barred implementation of Real ID but prohibited “preliminary measures like negotiations with federal officials related to the requirement,” according to a report in last week’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Some state lawmakers opposed Real ID because of privacy concerns, while others denounced the law as an “unfunded mandate” requiring states to change their licensing practices without providing any money to implement the changes.
Today’s New York Times reports that TSA is considering how to deal with a situation in which some state IDs become invalid for air travel.
“The federal government has quietly gone around and clubbed states into submission,” Minnesota State Senator Warren Limmer, who spearheaded the state’s 2009 opposition, told the Times. “That’s a pretty heavy club.”