Time to Get Real
Post-9/11 identification law still hasn't taken off
- By Megan Weadock
- Mar 02, 2010
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
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
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
"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
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.