After more than 12 years and dozens of setbacks, a major piece of federal legislation finally seems ready for its nationwide launch—and if your state isn’t prepared, it could really clip your wings.
The REAL ID Act will officially go into effect on January 22, 2018. The new set of federal requirements will not only make it tougher to secure a driver’s license—they could make it impossible to board a domestic flight with state-issued identification.
By the January deadline, residents from states not in compliance with the law, or those not granted an extension, will need a passport, passport card, or other form of acceptable identification to get past airport security checkpoints. By October of 2020, there will be no more wiggle room, and all IDs will need to meet compliance standards to be accepted.
The change in security protocol represents the final implementation of the REAL ID Act, which was passed in 2005. The act comes with a set of federal standards aimed at eliminating airline terrorism by exacting more control over the documents granting access to domestic planes, thereby decreasing the chances of identity fraud.
State agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles will ask for more paperwork regarding proof of residency and Social Security number when issuing licenses and identification cards under the new provisions. The cards themselves will also be built using new technology, making them much more difficult to forge.
Formulated in the wake of September 11, the REAL ID Act’s authors were especially mindful of the access to federal facilities typically granted by a driver’s license. Implemented in steps, the REAL ID Act has already limited permission to enter military bases, most federal buildings, and nuclear power plants to those carrying the newly bolstered identification cards.
While no states are currently deemed “noncompliant” (although a few remain “under review”), the process of acceptance has been long—and tenuous—for many of them.
Critics of the law have openly worried it could lead to an easily corruptible national ID system. They point to language in the law requiring the state agencies that issue the cards to not only keep electronic copies of the additional documents being asked for—including birth certificates, visas, and Social Security cards, among others—but to link those new databases to one another in order to “provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database.”
Concern over the legislation’s permission for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand its collection of license-generated data on an as-deemed-necessary basis also caused controversy. Minnesota went so far as passing a 2009 state law that prevented the state from even exploring the idea of implementing REAL ID standards.
However, as the 2018 deadline draws nearer, even the North Star State has fallen in line. The 2009 law was eventually lifted, allowing Minnesota state agencies to converse with the federal government about adopting the act.
Indeed, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are currently in the process of adjusting to the new standards—and building the corresponding databases. Below, a snapshot of where each state lies.
Out of the entire nation, three states are still currently deemed “under review” by the Department of Homeland Security for a requested compliance deadline extension: Louisiana, Michigan, and New York.
In each case, the state had already filed for and secured a previous deadline extension, which expired on October 10, 2017. If accepted, the new extension would give each state additional time to adjust to the new rules.
Official details on why the states have been designated as “under review” or how far along the government is in assessing their extension applications are sparse, but the DHS has declared that the three states will still be subject to the same January 22, 2018 cutoff for accepting non-REAL ID documents at its airports.
Still unclear is how much longer any additionally extended deadline would give the territories to prepare, or any legal repercussions that could be exacted upon the states.
The DHS has stated that updates will be posted directly to its website.
A majority of states—27, plus the District of Colombia—are already considered compliant with the law change. That means the DHS recognizes the licenses and identification cards, and the methods utilized in the creation of them, to be up to the newly imposed federal standards.
While any driver’s license or state ID card issued in the following states will offer access to domestic flights until 2020, compliant cards issued during or after the following dates will also give the holder ability to access federal buildings, nuclear power plants, and military bases (as well as domestic flights):
- Alabama: February 2012.
- Arizona: April 2016
- Arkansas: October 2016.
- Colorado: July 2013.
- Connecticut: October 2011 (only SeleCT cards are compliant).
- Delaware: July 2010.
- Florida: January 2010.
- Georgia: July 2012.
- Hawaii: March 2012.
- Indiana: January 2010.
- Iowa: January 2013.
- Kansas: August 2017.
- Maryland: June 2016.
- Mississippi: June 2017.
- Nebraska: September 2013.
- Nevada: November 2014.
- New Mexico: November 2016.
- North Carolina: May 2017.
- Ohio: May 2011.
- South Dakota: December 2009.
- Tennessee: June 2017.
- Texas: October 2016.
- Utah: January 2010.
- Vermont: January 2014.
- Washington, D.C.: May 2014.
- West Virginia: January 2012.
- Wisconsin: January 2013.
- Wyoming: June 2011.
The remaining 20 states have been granted deadline extensions by the DHS. Licenses and state ID cards from these areas will allow access to nuclear power plants, federal buildings, military bases and domestic flights until October 10, 2018. After that point, residents will need to bring another form of approved identification.
The Department of Homeland Security will post updates on the compliance level of the following states on its website:
- New Hampshire.
- New Jersey.
- North Dakota.
- Rhode Island.
- South Carolina.