Thanks to the passing of the REAL ID Act in 2005, the federal government now considers most state driver’s licenses “unreal.” This was a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission to the Federal Government aiming to establish minimum security standards for state-issued IDs. In short, the act prevents federal agencies from accepting forms of state identification that do not meet certain requirements. This will ultimately affect one’s ability to enter places like military bases and power plants, and also travel on commercial airlines.
Currently Oregon is not compliant with the REAL ID standards, but was granted an extension period last year to continue developing a strategy for doing so. While the extension lasts until October of this year, it remains to be seen what will happen at that time.
Washington, for instance, is one of four other states/territories that have been denied further extensions. While the majority of Washingtonians retain their standard issue driver’s licenses, a growing number have voluntarily acquired an enhanced ID at their own cost. While the effective date to provide a REAL ID for commercial air travel is October 2020 for all states, Washington already requires them to enter military institutions such as the air force Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
While the REAL ID Act seeks to discourage terrorism by implementing higher standards for issuing state IDs, some argue that these new standardized IDs may lead to discrimination.
On one hand, the federal government requires states to make IDs harder to counterfeit and increase the requirements of proving legal US residency, which is hard to argue against. However, the Department of Homeland Security released an online summary after receiving comments from the public. Concern was voiced that in the case of foreign nationals and other immigrants who could not obtain a REAL ID due to their status, they would be issued an ID displaying their non-American-ness, which may draw negative attention. Others complained that the act will divide the country into two groups: the haves and the have nots…You see where they are going with that, right?
Is this a case of Big Brother watching us? While there has been apprehension at the state level as to how the government might use the act, the more tangible concern is the cost to both the state and the citizens. Arguments posed by Oregon legislature include accusations of federal overreach, secure sharing and storing of citizens’ data, and the cost to the state of reworking our otherwise shoddy licenses up to REAL ID status.
Either way, this is going to happen sooner or later. Whether we redesign our driver’s licenses or offer other forms of enhanced ID, the days of casually strolling into military bases, power plants, and flying nationally are almost at an end. Then again, those things never really were all that casual.
By Anthony Vitale