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Millions of Americans May Need a Passport to Board Domestic Flights in 2018
After the new year, millions of Americans may be required to show their passports to travel on domestic flights. The potential change in policy is a result of the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, which requires all states to comply with new federal standards for identification in the name of improved security.
According to the TSA, the act “established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits federal agencies, like TSA, from accepting licenses and identification cards for official purposes from states that do not meet these standards.”
The act itself imposes certain requirements for state-issued IDs, including typical information like a person’s full name, birthday, gender, license or id number, residence, signature, and a digital photograph. According to the legislation, additional requirements include “physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes” and “common machine-readable technology, with defined minimum data elements.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the act was the result of a recommendation by the 9/11 commission. The agency says “states have made considerable progress in meeting this key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and every state has a more secure driver’s license today than before the passage of the Act.”
Real ID also applies to federal buildings and military bases.
Come January 22, all states are required to be in compliance with the Real ID Act unless they have received extensions. DHS is currently reviewing extension requests from states like California, New York, and New Jersey. So far, 25 states are compliant with the act. According to the TSA, states that are not yet compliant “will have a grace period until January 22, 2018, meaning that Federal agencies (including TSA) will continue to accept driver’s license and identification cards issued by these states in accordance with each agency’s policies.”
After that, travelers in states that have not yet met the requirements may be required to show their passports for interstate travel. DHS says that “Starting January 22, 2018, travelers who do not have a license from a compliant state or a state that has been granted an extension (a complete list of non-compliant states/ territories can be found here) will be asked to provide alternate acceptable identification. If the traveler cannot provide an acceptable form of identification, they will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.”
By October 1, 2020, “every traveler will need to present a REAL ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification for domestic air travel.” The act has faced criticism from privacy advocates, who say it could lead to a federal database of Americans’ personal information, though the DHS has denied this possibility.
However, when the law was first introduced in 2005, Ohio State University law professor Peter Swire told NPR it effectively amounted national database.
Swire, a former privacy advisor to President Bill Clinton, said:
“I think it’s a national ID system. It won’t be one national ID card. Americans in polls and Congress at various points have said we don’t want a national ID card, but this really is a national ID system, and this is going to be your ticket into federal buildings. If you want to go visit a courthouse, if you want to visit your member of Congress, you’re now going to have this nationally approved ID card just to exercise your freedom to petition.”
Swire clarified that “there’s not one database where all the things are housed in one building. Instead, it’s a link between all the parts of the system, so everybody gets to pull up all the data. That’s one database the way we understand it. It’s just not housed in one place.”
He also argued that despite advocates’ claims REAL ID would improve security, that wasn’t actually the case.
“The federal standard actually creates new risks, because now if you’re in South Carolina, people in Idaho in the DMV that you don’t know much about can pull it up, and when we have a national computer database of that sort, all these systems linked together, there’s a lot more risk that there’s going to be a breach somewhere. We’ve seen the big data companies, who are professionals at this, have data breaches this year. The DMVs are not going to be better than that.”
Nevertheless, the law has pressed forward, with states first beginning to establish compliance in 2013. If states with extensions have not complied by January 22, millions of Americans may be forced to show their federally-issued passports to travel ‘freely.’