The 2005 Real ID Act, which requires U.S. citizens to present more than just a basic driver’s license to board domestic flights, was initially scheduled to take effect on May 3, 2023.
However, after many years of delays, the Department of Homeland Security has postponed the enforcement deadline by an additional two years.
As a result, travelers will now have until May 7, 2025, to obtain the necessary updated documents.
The Real ID was a response to the recommendations made by The 9/11 Commission.
Officially, this Act aimed to enhance the security and accuracy of state-issued identification documents through collaboration between the states and the federal government.
REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a gold star at the top of the card.
Soon, a Real ID may be mandatory for boarding a commercial flight. The Real ID may also be a requirement for accessing secure buildings, though the specific locations have not been specified yet. It could range from Capitol buildings to public schools, and even public gathering places.
The REAL ID Act, which was introduced in the Federal Register on January 28, 2008, sparked widespread concern with over 21,000 comments posted in response.
The overarching fear was that the program, despite its initially good intentions, could become a tool for surveillance and tracking, holding sensitive personal information and records for each individual in a national digital identity database.
Some comments warned that the REAL ID could become a mandatory requirement for all aspects of American life, with potential consequences beyond its original purpose, including control over gun ownership and marijuana use.
The ID could be necessary for everyday tasks such as air travel, banking, and accessing government benefits like Social Security and Medicaid.
The former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security wrote an opinion column, in which they stated that after the final rule was published, “embracing REAL ID” would allow it to be utilized for various activities such as cashing a check, hiring a babysitter, boarding a plane, and many more.
The concern was also raised that the ID card could create a divide between those who possess it and those who don’t, leading to mistrust and suspicion towards the latter group.
Here are some of the main concerns people have raised about the mass adoption of Real ID:
1. It uses advanced facial recognition technology
The REAL ID Act grants permission for facial recognition technology to be utilized and leaves room for further “future requirements” to be imposed.
This could entail the collection of sensitive information such as DNA samples, retinal scans, or even RFID chips that monitor Americans’ movements.
The legislation is written in a manner that enables authorities to demand that citizens obtain a Real ID, and then later demand additional requirements in order to maintain it.
To obtain your REAL ID license, you must undergo a photo capture using facial recognition technology. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles will scan and store your certified birth certificate and original social security card in their database for seven years. Unfortunately, due to the current state of cyber security, we cannot guarantee the security of this newly established database.
Before the Real ID Act, many states and territories relied on low-resolution, analog photographs for driver’s license applications. These photographs were not suitable for facial recognition software due to their high error rate and low resolution. However, they were still recognizable by the human eye.
Today, roughly 35 states have implemented facial recognition technology, which maps the face by measuring the distances between key facial features. This technology is based on the premise that these distances are unique to each individual, similar to the uniqueness of one’s fingerprints.
Facial recognition technology uses mapping to identify an individual by measuring the distinct distances between key facial features, such as the eyes, nose, ears, and lips. This mapping process is based on the belief that the distances between these features are unique to each person, just as fingerprints are considered to be unique identifiers.
2. The Real ID Act demands state DMV database linking
The implementation of REAL ID creates a connected network, giving other states’ motor vehicle departments and the federal government access to every Bureau of Motor Vehicles database.
With just a simple change in regulations, the federal Department of Homeland Security could effortlessly link all 50 states’ databases, leading to the creation of a national identity database, without the need for any action from Congress.
Database linking increases the likelihood of individuals becoming victims of identity theft.
3. The Real ID Act grants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unprecedented authority
It empowers the Secretary of DHS to unilaterally determine the circumstances under which citizens must present a Real ID-compliant driver’s license as proof of identification for “Official Purposes.”
The Real ID Act outlines three official purposes, but the Secretary of DHS is granted the authority to expand the list without seeking approval from Congress.
This unchecked power gives the Secretary the ability to add requirements such as having a Real ID-compliant driver’s license to purchase a weapon or ammunition, or even to pick up a prescription.
This unrestricted discretion granted to the Secretary raises concerns about its constitutionality, as nowhere in the Constitution does it give such broad powers to the Executive Branch, especially to a cabinet member.
4. The MRZ (Machine Readable Zone) of a Real ID-compliant driver’s license is unencrypted
During the rulemaking process of the Real ID Act, privacy advocates argued that the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) should be encrypted to protect citizens’ information.
However, the DHS believed that encryption would pose technical difficulties for law enforcement officers in the field.
It has become evident that the unencrypted MRZ is a serious problem that may cause harm to citizens.
Criminals and retailers could take advantage of the unencrypted MRZ on driver’s licenses for illegal activities.
While the deadline keeps getting pushed back, the Real ID is becoming closer to being a reality.