Passports for Domestic Travel under REAL ID Law
One of my commenters brought to my attention an issue that’s not receiving much attention: Residents of several U.S. states could have to show their passports for domestic travel — or to enter a federal government building — starting January 1 because of the REAL ID Act. Chris Strohm for Congress Daily:
More than half a dozen states will not be in compliance with a federal driver’s license law by the end of the month, meaning lawmakers and the Homeland Security Department will have to find a stopgap solution to help them avoid penalties.
States were required by Tuesday to request a waiver from the Homeland Security Department in order to be considered in compliance with the Real ID law, which set strict standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards.
Many federal and state officials say the law is unworkable and constitutes an unfunded mandate. Some state governments have passed laws prohibiting them from complying with the Bush-era law.
As of late Tuesday, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and South Carolina, along with three U.S. territories, had not asked for a waiver, according to Homeland Security. Technically, under the law, residents of states that do not have a waiver by the end of the month will be required to go through secondary screening at airports beginning Jan. 1, which could create confusion and disruptions for tens of thousands of airline passengers.
But no one expects that to happen. Instead, the department is likely to simply extend the deadline for states to come into compliance with Real ID. The federal commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks recommended national standards for driver’s licenses.
Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and the National Governors Association want Congress to pass legislation this month to repeal the Real ID law. The PASS ID Act was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in July, but Senate Republicans have kept it from advancing. A similar bill awaits committee action in the House.
It looks like DHS will step in to avert this mess if Congress doesn’t. But they’re playing chicken at the moment because the administration is trying to pass an alternative measure called PASS ID and is trying to force Congress’ hand.
My home state, Virginia, is one of the states that is in rebellion against REAL ID. In March, now-outgoing Governor Tim Kain signed a bipartisan law prohibiting the Commonwealth from complying with certain provisions. According to a press release, “The Virginia law is not an outright rejection of Real ID, but it will prohibit any ID, or database linked to the ID, from containing biometric data (e.g., DNA, fingerprints, or retinal scans) or financial information (e.g., tax returns or personal investment information) that compromise “economic privacy.”
My concern isn’t so much with privacy issues but with the absurdity of the unfunded mandate. If a biometric identification card will really enhance the security of airplane flights and government buildings — and I seriously doubt it will, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the infinitesimal nature of the threat — then it should fund the implementation. Frankly, having our primary identification card issued by 50 state governments, requiring turning it in and going through the bureaucracy of getting a new one every time we move, is silly anyway.
You would think we’d have learned from the fiasco with the new passports.
Illustration: Consumer Traveler