Homeland Security Prepares to Implement Real ID Program

ID Check

Image courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation

In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act after the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government set standards for issuing acceptable identification, such as driver's licenses. The 9/11 Commission recognized that was too easy to get false IDs in the United States. In recognition of that, the commission determined that “(s)ecure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” 

The act established minimum security standards, and if states didn't comply, the IDs they issued to their residents would not be accepted for official purposes. One of those purposes is identification used at airport security checkpoints. In December 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled a phased enforcement plan for the REAL ID Act. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia are currently compliant. The remaining states are facing an Oct. 10, 2017, deadline to become compliant.

When a state’s extension expires, its IDs will no longer be accepted by the federal government. But these states can get another short grace extension from the Secretary of Homeland Security before federal agencies begin enforcing REAL ID at facilities, including commercial airports. States that lose their extensions on Oct. 10, 2017, will not be subject to REAL ID enforcement until Jan. 22, 2018. 

DHS will use four factors to determine if a state has provided adequate justification for noncompliance:

  1. Has the highest level executive state official overseeing the state’s Driver Licensing Authority committed to meet the standards of the REAL ID Act and implementing regulation;
  2. Has the State’s Attorney General confirmed that the state has the legal authority to meet the standards of the REAL ID Act and regulation;
  3. Has the state documented: the status of both and unmet requirements; plans and milestones for meeting unmet requirements; and a target date for beginning to issue REAL ID compliant documents; and
  1. Has the state participated in periodic progress reviews with DHS on the status of unmet requirements?

DHS released this timetable and explanation of noncompliance in recognition that some states must change their laws to comply with the REAL ID Act. It also wanted to give the public a chance to learn more about the implications of not having a REAL ID-compliant license so they have enough time to replace their pre-REAL ID licenses with new compliant licenses or to obtain another acceptable form of identification.

After Jan. 22, 2018, states that are still not in compliance with Real ID that the driver's licenses they issue will not be accepted by officers at Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  Starting October 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for to get past airport security checkpoints. These alternatives include:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards including Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST
  • U.S. military ID (active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DoD civilians)
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver's license
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

You may still be able to board a flight if you don’t have proper identification. A TSA officer can ask you to fill out a form with your name and current address. They may also ask additional questions to confirm your identity. If it’s confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint, but you face additional screening and possibly a pat-down. But the TSA won’t allow you to fly if your identity cannot be confirmed, you chose to not provide proper identification or you decline to cooperate with the identity verification process.