By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
To increase homeland security, Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005. This act was a result of the 9/11 Commission’s guidance that the federal government should set standards for the issuance of identification documents, such as state driver’s licenses, to ensure that minimum security standards are met.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the purpose of this act is to increase security by setting standards for states to meet in the issuance of driver’s licenses or similar identification documents. These documents are typically used to access certain federal facilities such as military bases or to board federally regulated commercial aircraft.
The REAL ID program is intended to reduce the risk of someone using false identification to evade detection, especially if that person intends to harm the occupants of an airplane. The program increases the difficulty of developing fraudulent identification documents and makes positive identification of people on terrorist watchlists much easier, especially when those people move through federally regulated facilities.
REAL ID Goes into Effect on May 3, 2023
The REAL ID program goes into effect on May 3, 2023. By that time, travelers will need to upgrade their driver’s licenses if they want to use a driver’s license card for security screening purposes at airports and other similar facilities.
REAL ID does not prohibit the use of other official documentation, such as a valid passport. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), what sets the REAL ID apart from other documents is that it must include a machine-readable zone, so that officials can use a machine to scan someone’s personal information
AARP notes that obtaining a REAL ID will be similar to getting a traditional driver’s license. It can be obtained through a local DMV office by presenting documents that confirm your identity, such as a birth certificate, a passport or a similar proof of your address. Additional proof of identity may include utility bills and credit card bills.
Privacy Concerns with the New REAL ID Program
Some critics have raised privacy concerns about the REAL ID program. These critics say that it is a way for the federal government to create a national database based on information provided by users.
However, DHS states that the “REAL ID is a national set of standards, not a national identification card. REAL ID does not create a federal database of driver license information. Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who get access to those records.”
Financial Concerns about REAL ID
Another concern that critics have raised is the added cost for users to upgrade to a REAL ID. For example, FOX 43 News noted that Pennsylvania requires a $30 fee to upgrade from a regular driver’s license to a REAL ID-compliant license.
However, FOX 43 News also noted that upgrading to the REAL ID is not a requirement in Pennsylvania. Ideally, state residents should check with their local DMV office to evaluate the costs associated with upgrading to the REAL ID.
Ultimately, Homeland Security Could Be Improved with REAL ID
The REAL ID is a good way to improve homeland security. Although it is very difficult to protect ourselves from all homeland security incidents, adopting this form of identification a useful step in the right direction.