There was media hysteria four years ago when TSA was telling people that their drivers licenses wouldn’t be good at airport security if they lived in one of several states. At the time I said it was bunk, and indeed that’s exactly what it turned out to be.
TSA raised the alarms several times after that. For instance media started taking TSA claims that people wouldn’t be allowed to fly in January 2018.
The TSA has once again been warning passengers that their drivers licenses may not be accepted at security checkpoints starting in October 1, 2020. It’s being covered broadly, for instance here is The Points Guy,
The TSA has started a public campaign to encourage travelers to get a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or other acceptable form of identification, to fly within the US by October 1, 2020. Those who try to travel without an approved REAL ID will not be allowed to pass through TSA checkpoints to catch their flights.
Both the claim that the relevant date is October 1, and that you won’t be allowed to pass through TSA checkpoints without a REAL ID-compliant ID, are inaccurate.
The first three things to know:
- An inability to get a compliant ID only affects residents of 4 states and 2 U.S. territories
- October 1 isn’t even the relevant date for residents of any of those states and territories
- If any state or territory is considered non-compliant this fall there will likely be another extension.
What IDs are Required ‘By October 2020’ And Why?
Why does TSA say that ‘Real ID compliant IDs’ will be required by October 2020?
- The ‘Real ID’ act sets out conditions for what IDs will be accepted at federal facilities. Since the TSA is a federal agency, that means airport security too.
- No state is actually fully compliant with all of the requirements of the act. Some have been deemed compliant by the Department of Homeland Security. Others have been granted extensions.
- TSA keeps announcing that residents of states that have neither will not be able to use their drivers licenses at airport security come the next arbitrary date DHS has set.
What is a REAL ID Compliant License?
A ‘real ID compliant’ license has to have a person’s full legal name, signature, date of birth, gender, a unique identifying number, home address, and a front-facing photo. There are also specific anti-counterfeiting measures that must be used, and rules on providing the data on the card in a standard machine-readable format.
Prior to issuing a ‘real ID compliant’ license, a state has to require:
- A photo ID (they make you present a photo ID to get a photo ID..) or ID that includes full name and birth date
- Documentation of birth date (usually a birth certificate)
- Proof of legal status (you’re not an illegal alient) and social security number (something you didn’t even have to have when I was born)
- Documentation of your residential address
States are required to share data in a searchable database that the federal government hasn’t built yet, so no state could be technically compliant even though DHS says more than half of states are.
If Your Drivers License Isn’t Real ID Complaint You Can Still Fly
Anyone can use a passport instead, or proceed through security without ID by answering challenge questions to confirm their identity.
Very Few States and Territories are an Issue
DHS bullies states into complying by threatening to refuse travel to their citizens, but continues to back down. I predicted they would back down before the Presidential election in 2016 and they did. They’ve continued to back down since. Nonetheless most states have made enough progress for DHS to deem them compliant.
Here’s the Department of Homeland Security map showing the status of each state and territory:
All states and territories have been deemed compliant except Maine; New Jersey; Oklahoma; Oregon; American Samoa; Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. As long as you don’t live in one of those states you just need a most-current version of your license to proceed through TSA
Each of these has extensions through October 10, 2020 except for the Mariana Islands which only has an extension through February 28, 2020. If they aren’t given another extension then presumably TSA will start rejecting their licenses much earlier than October. For everyone else October 1 is an irrelevant date.
In any case I think we can confidently predict that the federal government will back down again rather than start denying travel en masse to citizens one month before the next Presidential election as well (unless all states obtain waivers or are deemed compliant by then).
Why Are IDs Demanded at Security Checkpoints in the First Place?
ID checks began as security theater after TWA flight 800, President Clinton asked for things he could announce right away. Airlines used to ask for ID to make sure the person traveling was the one that bought the ticket, solely to restrict the resale market for airfare in order to support revenue management systems that increased the price of travel closer to departure (to prevent people from buying tickets cheap and reselling them as travel dates approached — still undercutting the airline’s price). Now the government does the airline’s work for them, ostensibly for security but a determined terrorist (the TSA has never caught a single one) doesn’t have much problem flying with fake documents.
The ‘security purpose’ of ID checks is to try to force people to fly under their real names, so that those names can be checked against the government’s highly flawed watch and do not fly lists. Anyone on such a list, intent on committing a terrorist act, would simply choose not to fly under their own name.
Those lists of course impose substantial burdens on the right to travel.
- People get added to the ‘do not fly list’ without any due process proceeding
- It’s not necessary to commit any disqualifying acts to be on that list (they’re pre-crime profiling: mere suspicion that someone might do something in the future)
- You cannot confront your accuser
- There’s almost no meaningful and timely redress procedures
Americans now have to show their papers to travel, even inside their own country. Did you know that passports weren’t required for even a lot of international travel until very recently?