The Department of Homeland Security this week rejected requests to extend the amount of time five states have to develop identification cards compliant with the Real ID Act, upping the incentive for states to fall in line with the federal proof-of-identity law.
The move means that, come 2018, residents of Oklahoma, Kentucky, Maine, Pennsylvania and South Carolina might not be allowed to board commercial flights with only state driver’s licenses and would instead be required to use an alternative form of identification such as a passport, according to Homeland Security.
Rollout of the Real ID Act, which Congress adopted in 2005 to tighten license requirements in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has spanned more than a decade as some states have made slow progress in meeting compliance standards and others have balked at the issuance of compliant IDs over privacy concerns.
Homeland Security issued near-identical letters to state officials this week denying their requests for extensions and listing the requirements that each individual state had or had not met.
In a letter to Kentucky authorities that was provided to The Washington Times, DHS officials said the state “has not committed to meeting all remaining requirements and has not provided adequate justification for continued noncompliance.”
Kentucky officials were floored by the insinuation.
“It’s disappointing that the federal government is basically turning a blind eye to recent progress we’ve made in improving our systems,” said John-Mark Hack, commissioner of the state’s Department of Vehicle Regulation.
Mr. Hack said the state will continue to modernize its system to meet the requirements, but also sought to allay concerns of Kentucky residents, noting that state ID cards still can be used to visit Social Security offices, Veterans Affairs facilities and federal court houses.
He pointed out that Kentucky is compliant with most provisions or the Real ID Act, but that one outstanding issue is related to how the state issues driver’s licenses. The state allows residents to obtain ID cards over the counter at 144 circuit court clerks’ offices, where officials have had difficulties meeting the security standards required for facilities where IDs are issued, Mr. Hack said.
While Homeland Security indicates that ID requirements for flights will not be enforced until 2018, there will be more immediate effects.
“Starting January 30, 2017, federal agencies and nuclear power plants may not accept for official purposes driver’s licenses and state IDs from a noncompliant state/territory without an extension,” said DHS spokesman Aaron Rodriguez in a statement.
Homeland Security reports that 23 states and Washington, D.C., have met enough of the Real ID standards to be deemed in compliance with the law. Others remain under review or have been granted limited extensions.
The five states alerted this week that they did not receive extensions will join Minnesota, Missouri and Washington, which were previously notified by Homeland Security that they are not in compliance with the law.
The move may spur some lawmakers to try to address compliance hangups.
“We’re going to have to address this and address it soon,” Maine state Sen. Bill Diamond, one of the few state lawmakers who supported compliance with the law, told the Portland Press Herald. “This is a game-changer.”
Not everyone thinks states will, or should, be swayed by the federal government’s determination.
“These are not states that stand out because they are less compliant,” said Edward Hasbrouck, a spokesman for the privacy advocacy group The Identity Project.
He says Homeland Security is arbitrarily enforcing aspects of the Real ID Act by deeming states compliant even when they have not met every requirement, noting specifically few “compliant” states have met the requirement that they provide access to information contained in their motor vehicle database via electronic access to all other states.
“It’s a game of chicken, it’s a game of intimidation, and very little of it has to do with actual requirements or actual deadlines,” Mr. Hasbrouck said.
If Homeland Security, which repeatedly has pushed back compliance deadlines for Real ID, does go through with the commercial airline restrictions in 2018, Mr. Hasbrouck said he expects grounded passengers would eventually bring litigation challenging the law.
While some states work to comply with the mandate, others remain opposed to the law on the grounds that the federal government is overstepping its authority or because officials believe the law requires collection of too much information about citizens.
More than a dozen states have passed laws blocking their departments of motor vehicles from complying with the law — Oklahoma, Maine, Pennsylvania and South Carolina among them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In a move perhaps intended to deflect residents’ frustration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued a statement Thursday highlighting that it is bound by a law the state legislature adopted in 2012 that bars it from participating in Real ID.
“In large measure, we are out of compliance for limited technical reasons and because existing state law bars us from fully complying,” said Transprtation Secretary Leslie Richards. “While we understand frustration with the cost of this unfunded federal mandate, our failure to comply because of the prohibition of current law will be a burden for Pennsylvanians.”