Real ID Act

Time to Get Real

Post-9/11 identification law still hasn't taken off

This September will mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. In the meantime, we've experienced nearly a decade of ever-changing airport security measures, elevated risk warnings, confusion, frustration and fear.

One of the post-9/11 security mandates was the Real ID Act, which is a federal law passed in 2005 that created new security, authentication and issuance standards for state driver's licenses and ID cards. Once the law is enacted, only cards that meet federal standards can be used for official purposes, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, including boarding commercial airline flights and entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants.

The often-criticized law has faced one obstacle and delay after another. The most recent set of difficulties came as 2009 wound to a close.

Down to the Wire

State-issued driver's licenses and ID cards were required to adhere to federally mandated security enhancements by the Real ID Act deadline of Dec. 31, 2009. If a state couldn't make the deadline, its residents would be required to provide extra identification when traveling by air. In fact, as of December 2009, 46 of 56 states and territories hadn't met the deadline, and air passengers would have had to present a valid passport to make it through security— even for domestic flights. And if you didn't have a passport? You'd better get one quick.

My home state of New Mexico was one of the states and territories that did not meet the deadline. And I can only imagine the financial strain the requirement would have put on the state's many low-income families.

Luckily for those 46 states and territories, the Real ID Act final compliance deadline was pushed back to May 10, 2011.

DHS' deputy press secretary, Matt Chandler, said the department will continue to work closely with states to meet this deadline.

"DHS is committed to moving forward to implement this key 9/11 Commission recommendation," he said. "However, Congress must act to address systemic problems with the Real ID Act to advance our security interests over the long term."

These systemic problems include inconsistencies in state policies on issuing driver's licenses. For example, in New Mexico, a state law allows immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, to apply for driver's licenses. Clearly, this will be a main sticking point on the road to Real ID, which creates strict standards of proof for individuals applying for asylum and other forms of relief.

Passing the Buck?

Real ID has faced its share of critics since it was introduced in 2005. For example, it's going to be costly and timeconsuming for everyone involved—from the state down to the individual. Even most citizens who already have driver's licenses will have to reapply for them using certified birth certificates. And because the law requires states to share their Department of Motor Vehicle databases, some claim that it's equivalent to creating a national ID card.

Enter PASS ID, a bill recently introduced into Congress that some are calling a watered-down version of Real ID. The legislation would do away with several of the technological requirements of the 2005 law, but it would still require each state to meet the federal guidelines for its ID cards to be accepted.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has been an outspoken supporter of PASS ID since it became a possibility.

"PASS ID is a critical piece of national security legislation that will fix the Real ID Act of 2005 and institute strong security standards for government- issued identification," she told the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in 2009. "PASS ID will fulfill a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, that the federal government set standards for identification such as driver's licenses and non-driver identification cards, and this bill will do so in a way that states will implement, rather than disregard. PASS ID will enact the same strong security standards set out by Real ID as quickly as REAL ID—but, critically, this bill provides a workable way to get there."

So what's different about Real ID version 2.0? According to the Wall Street Journal, PASS ID would be cheaper, less restrictive and funded in part by federal grants. Apparently it would remove the requirement to verify birth certificates with the issuing department and shared national databases (both huge points of contention).

Not surprisingly, PASS ID has plenty of its own critics—from both sides of the issue. A quick search of news articles and opinion pieces on the proposed legislation unearths people who are in a rage that PASS ID takes all the effectiveness out of the original law. Others are still concerned about the possibility of amassing so much valuable information in one database.

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