The Real Consequences of Real ID

The Transportation Security Authority (TSA) recently announced that by next year all domestic airline passengers will need to have either a traditional passport or a government-issued ID compliant with Real ID standards to board a plane. The new rule could take effect as early as January 2016. At that time, standard state-issued driver’s licenses will no longer allow access to domestic flights.

In the wake of 9/11, you will recall, policymakers moved for stronger national standards to verify the identity of driver’s license applicants. This led to the 2005 Real ID Act which established requirements for a national identification system based on the driver’s license. The act requires the states to comply with 18 benchmarks related to the issuance of personal identification cards. Implementation has been slow because many states initially balked at complying, citing financial, logistical and privacy concerns.

Today, however, only seven states remain noncompliant with Real ID. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 20-30 percent of U.S. licensed drivers hold licenses from these states. The holdouts will have to act quickly to meet the 2016 deadline or hope for additional extensions or delays as have occurred in the past.

Getting a Real ID-compliant driver’s license is not as easy as simply renewing your driver’s license. You’ll need to round up your papers and present them in-person at your state’s DMV. Here in Wisconsin getting a compliant driver’s license requires the following documentation:

  • Proof of citizenship or legal status in the U.S.
  • Name and date of birth
  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of Wisconsin residency
  • Proof of Social Security number

Make sure to check your state’s requirements before you renew your driver’s license. Your state may offer a choice of a Real ID-compliant or noncompliant driver’s license. If you already have a passport or object to Real ID, you could consider the noncompliant version. A compliant ID card will include a small gold circle containing a white star.

We’re providing this information so you know what to expect the next time you visit the DMV. Let’s be clear. The NMA has opposed Real ID from the beginning. Our position is simple: The only legitimate purpose of the driver’s license is to certify that the license holder is capable of safely operating a motor vehicle on public roads. The license should not be withheld for any reason other than the fact that the applicant could not pass a fair and objective driving test. It should not be suspended or revoked unless, through due process, it is proven that the license owner is not driving in a safe and prudent manner.

Regrettably, through Real ID, the driver’s license is evolving into an internal passport producible on demand through any number of “where are your papers?” scenarios. The personal information collected from each driver will also be pooled and shared among any number of government agencies. Full implementation of Real ID will have substantial consequences for motorists:

  • More government intrusion and control: Real ID, and the sharing of the information it collects, will increasingly be used to track and control individuals’ movements and activities.
  • Increased threats to personal privacy: Since all of an individual’s personal data will be encoded onto the actual ID card, it will be easy for private industry to snap up that data, with or without the owner’s consent.
  • Greater vulnerability to identify theft/fraud: The creation of a single interlinked database containing vast amounts of personal information will become a target for identify thieves.

Even though the Real ID Act was enacted 10 years ago, we’re just beginning to feel its impact. People without Real ID are already restricted from entering certain federal facilities, and those restrictions will broaden to more facilities later this year.

The upcoming travel prohibitions only cover air travel, for now. Who knows what motor vehicle travel will be like once Real ID is in full force? Will motorists without Real ID be allowed to drive when and where they want? Police are already suspicious of anyone behind the wheel. How will they regard someone who can’t produce a Real ID?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we do know that Real ID will make life more difficult for many people. We also know that protecting your privacy and your identity will become more important than ever.

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