The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) moved one step closer on Monday to putting into place a plan that will not allow residents of some states to show their driver’s licenses when passing through airport security, forcing them instead to show a passport, the New York Times is reporting.
At issue is the Real ID Act, a federal law that’s been in place since 2005 but has been met with rather lax compliance by some states. The law, put in place on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, calls for the 50 states to meet certain federal guidelines when it comes to issuing driver’s licenses. Those guidelines include requiring driver’s applicants to prove their identity, Social Security number, and immigration status when applying. Further, the law requires driver’s licenses to contain “readable technology,” such as a chip or magnetic strip, that will reveal that information and share it with other states and perhaps even a national database.
Ostensibly, the law is intended to help combat fraud and identity theft, as well as to help prevent terrorism.
Some of the 50 states, however, haven’t exactly seen it that way. One thing standing in the way of compliance has been the cost: while the federal government estimates that the program will cost $3,9 billion, other estimates put the cost as high as $11 billion.
Besides money concerns, states have also rejected Real ID over privacy concerns. Civil libertarians and privacy advocates have suggested that the program would create a national ID card — a move which Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says is unacceptable.
“That’s exactly what we should not be doing.”
As of this writing, at least a dozen states have passed laws specifically prohibiting their motor vehicle authorities from issuing driver’s licenses that comply with Real ID. Other states, such as Maine, Missouri, and Montana, do not expressly participate in Real ID, but their driver’s licenses are strict enough that the government considers them in compliance. You can see a map of the U.S. and see if your state is in compliance here.
As for the other states with unacceptable driver’s licenses, there’s little the federal government can do to force them to comply — that is, except when it comes to air travel. Until Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has allowed TSA screeners to allow passengers from non-compliant states to pass through security and board aircraft with their existing driver’s licenses. Further, DHS has been granting those states extensions to bring their driver’s licenses into compliance.
Those days are coming to an end, says privacy advocate Edward Hasbrouck.
“There is an impasse. There has been a standoff for more than a decade now. The feds have limited powers to coerce the states in this case.”
By the end of this year, DHS says, the agency will introduce a schedule for when TSA screeners will have to begin rejecting driver’s licenses from passengers in non-compliant states. Those states will be given 120 days notice.
If those states do not come into compliance, passengers will have to present an alternative form of identification — generally, a passport — in order to be allowed to fly.
Hasbrouck says the new requirements are a heavy-handed way for the federal government to force states into compliance at the expense of ordinary citizens.
“This is a game of intimidation being played out between Congress and the federal government and state governments, with ordinary citizens being squeezed in the middle.”
As of this writing, you can still use your driver’s license to board an aircraft for domestic travel, although when that will change is not clear.
[Image via Shutterstock/ChameleonsEye]