DHS Moves to Restrict Travel: NMA E-Newsletter #365

Sometime this year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will likely begin restricting the rights of U.S. citizens to travel freely throughout the country.

At the end of last year DHS announced that sometime in 2016 it may require airline passengers to present either a traditional passport or Real ID-compliant identification to board a domestic flight. Rumors circulated that the requirement could hit as early as January.

This move is the result of the Real ID Act, enacted in 2005 to establish a national identification system based on the driver’s license. The act compels the states to meet 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.

January is here, so where do things stand? According to DHS, you do not need a Real ID or a passport to board a domestic flight at this time. DHS is still in the process of scheduling Real ID enforcement at airports and says it will give the traveling public at least 120 days’ notice before making any changes to the identification requirements. Until then, TSA will continue to accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards (Real ID compliant or not) along with other forms of acceptable identification found on the TSA website.

To date, only 22 states and the District of Columbia have fully implemented Real ID. That means 28 have not. The good news is that most of these have received extensions until October 10, 2016. If you live in New Hampshire, the extension only runs through May. (Look here for the full list of states by implementation status.)

Minnesota has been particularly defiant in its rejection of Real ID (Go Minnesota!) and does not appear to have received any compliance extensions. However, if you live in Minnesota and have an Enhanced Driver’s License, you may still be able to board domestic flights once the new requirements kick in.

The question is what happens if your state misses the deadline? Will DHS offer another extension? Will you still be able to board a plane with your non-compliant ID? On its website, DHS says “The REAL ID Act places the responsibility for action on the state, not residents of the state.” Translated, that means blame your state officials, not DHS, if you can’t hop on a plane to Pittsburgh sometime soon.

Note that if you renewed your driver’s license before your state implemented Real ID, it may not be compliant. 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

Check your state’s requirements prior to renewing. Your state may offer a choice of a Real ID-compliant or noncompliant driver’s license. If you already have a valid passport or object to Real ID, you could consider the noncompliant version. A compliant ID card will include a small circle containing a star.

The NMA has opposed Real ID from the beginning. The only legitimate purpose of the driver’s license is to certify that the license holder can safely operate a motor vehicle on public roads. The license should only be withheld if the applicant cannot pass an objective driving test. It should only be suspended or revoked if, 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 has evolved into an internal passport producible on demand through any number of “where are your papers?” scenarios. By statute, the personal information collected is shared among all the states, creating huge potential for abuse and identity theft.

Even though the Real ID Act was enacted 11 years ago, we’re just beginning to feel its impact. The upcoming travel prohibitions only cover air travel. But 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 are more important than ever.

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