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The REAL ID Act: Are You Ready for a National ID?

Date posted: 05/22/2013

by Lauren McClure on
in Identification Cards

WI REAL ID 300x192 The REAL ID Act: Are You Ready for a National ID?

Sample of the new REAL ID for Wisconsin

People throughout the country might see some big changes happening to their driver’s licenses and state IDs. As of February 2013, 19 states have demonstrated compliance with the REAL ID Act, a piece of legislature that imposes much stricter measures on how people can obtain a driver’s license, and sets more thorough standards as to what will be displayed on them. Called the new “national ID,” the REAL ID Act has gained some traction in light of recent events like the Boston Marathon bombings.

But what exactly is the REAL ID Act, and how will it affect drivers across the nation?

The History of REAL ID

After 9/11, the federal government began to look at ways to increase security surrounding state identification cards and driver’s licenses, in an attempt to prevent further terrorism and/or unlawful entry into and out of the country.

In 2005, the House of Representatives passed a bill into law called the REAL ID Act. This Act would set certain federal standards upon all driver’s licenses, which are currently regulated by each individual state. After being passed into law, the bill was tabled until 2007, when it was announced that the federal enforcement of the act would be postponed for a period of two years. However, many state governments were slow to support this act, feeling that it not only infringed upon states’ rights handed to them by the 10th Amendment, but also created unnecessary cost to taxpayers in order to implement the change. It wasn’t until this year that the federal government announced that all states would need to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act by the end of 2017.

How IDs Will Be Affected

The REAL ID Act sets forth new federally mandated requirements for all state driver’s licenses and ID cards. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set standards not entirely dissimilar from the requirements already in place for most states throughout the country. On each ID, the following information must be present:

  • Full legal name
  • Residential address
  • Birth date
  • Gender
  • Driver’s license/identification card number
  • Digital front-facing photograph
  • Signature

Driver’s licenses and IDs must now also include a common barcode and security devices to prevent any tampering with or counterfeiting of the card, and must display a star in the upper right-hand corner, signifying that your identification has been approved by the TSA and your identity has been verified. There are also new requirements put in place to obtain an ID or license; all applicants must present the following documents during the application process:

  • A photo ID, or non-photo ID that contains the applicant’s full legal name and birth date
  • Valid birth certificate
  • Social Security number
  • Proof of legal U.S. citizenship, OR proof of lawful admittance into or temporary residence within the U.S.

Lastly, each state must also agree to share its database of licensed citizens and drivers with all other states, including every piece of data on the cards themselves (name, address, birth date, etc.), along with all driving records and driver histories of everyone licensed to drive in the state.

The Pros and Cons of REAL ID

Proponents of the REAL ID Act cite its advantages to national security. These measures ensure that non-citizens are unable to obtain a state-issued ID or driver’s license, and also prevent anyone without one from boarding aircraft or entering high-security locations. Similarly, these IDs would place the United States in the company of nearly 100 other countries in the world (including most European countries) that have some form of a national ID card.

Cost, Freedom, and Privacy Concerns

However, many states oppose the implementation of the REAL ID Act based upon the estimated cost. The Act is a unfunded mandate, meaning that while the requirement is federally issued, the entire cost of recreating and re-issuing millions of licenses and ID cards would fall solely upon the states – without any financial assistance from the federal government. States are therefore required to raise their licensing fees in order to make up the added cost… putting an extra financial burden upon the licensee, who may simply be attempting to transfer one valid license into the REAL ID format.

Once the Act is fully implemented, residents without the new mandated ID will also be barred from boarding airplanes, entering nuclear facilities, and performing any other actions that require “official” federal identification. Citizens will need to provide a valid U.S. passport or permanent residency card in place of the new ID.

Another major concern is the idea of personal information being gathered and stored into what some are calling a “national database.” In order for the DHS and TSA to validate a citizen’s identity, they need to collect and store the information that otherwise would be solely kept by individual states. Many are worried about the “Big Brother”-esque implications this may have to personal privacy.

Major Effects Upon Immigrants

Immigrants and foreign nationals working in the United States are similarly worried about how the REAL ID Act may affect their abilities to live and work within the country. As the requirements for obtaining a new ID card are much more stringent than what some states may currently employ, foreigners without legal proof of entry into the country or without a Social Security number will be barred from obtaining a driver’s license, limiting their means of travel throughout country by a huge margin and possibly forcing them to return to their home country to renew their ID. Then again, supporters of the REAL ID Act cite this as an example of the system working properly, as it ensures that the only people working and traveling within the U.S. are those that the government has officially allowed to be here.

What is your opinion of the REAL ID Act? Will these new measures help to curb the threat of terrorism within our borders? Or are the added costs and stricter security measures just one more hindrance of states’ and citizens’ freedom? Let us know in the comments below!

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About Lauren McClure

Originally hailing from the Motor City, Lauren is a writer and editor with extensive experience in the automotive and driver's education realms. In a past life, she was an Elizabethan and early American literature scholar, and has been published in academic journals such as "The Laureate" and online publications that include USA Today and LiveSTRONG. Lauren graduated magna cum laude from Western Michigan University in 2008 with a Bachelor's in English, and went on to earn a Master's degree from Oakland University in 2011. After moving from Detroit to San Diego, CA, she worked in marketing communications before joining the DMV.org team in 2011. Lauren is a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi, and lists "professional hockey fan" as one of her foremost talents and skills. More articles by Lauren McClure

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