Forget Fake ID’s, You Need a REAL ID

You are an adult, you have a driver’s license, and you’re good to go, right? WRONG! Looming October 1, 2020 is the beginning of REAL ID compliance enforcement in the U.S. A REAL ID is not the opposite of a fake ID, something that someone under legal age might possess. Instead a REAL ID is a type of identification mandated by the federal government. Let’s get real about what you need to know about REAL ID’s.

Effective October 1st, several federal agencies will no longer accept current state driver’s licenses or ID cards for identification for certain purposes. In order to board a commercial aircraft, enter a military base, go in federal government facilities, or access a nuclear power plant, an individual must produce a REAL ID. Current ID would still work for less exciting activities such as cashing checks, voting, and renting a car though.

Use of REAL ID’s has been a long time coming. It is a shining example of how slowly the government moves. Way back on May 11, 2005, President Bush signed the REAL ID Act into law, but compliance enforcement will not begin until Fall 2020. In case you can’t do the math, that’s fifteen years to get REAL ID’s going. Could they go any slower?

The Real ID Act was passed in the aftermath of 9/11. Its goal was to make identity documents more consistent and secure by setting new and higher minimum security measures. This law prohibits federal agencies in specified instances from accepting driver’s licenses and ID cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards. The federal government was authorized to create national standards for acceptable federal identification.

The problem is, though, there is no national ID card for U.S. citizens. The standard form of ID is a state-issued driver’s license. Each state makes its own rules and standards for driver’s license and ID cards, and there’s a lack of uniform information about the ID holder from state to state. Based on the myriad of driver’s licenses I’ve reviewed to notarize documents over the decades, I’d say a consistent requirement for these ID’s is a horrible picture of the holder–more like a mug shot than a tool for identification. Do DMV’s offer bonuses to their employees for taking bad shots?

One reason security of ID’s is important is because of the threat of identity theft. In 2018, 14.4 million Americans were victim of this crime. If common criminals have no problem stealing identities, then doing so is likely a piece of cake for terrorists. REAL ID’s help to reduce counterfeit and forged ID’s to improve security. (At least this is what the government is telling us, and we naturally believe whatever the government says.)

REAL ID cards are made with new technology making them more difficult to forge. They must provide data in a common, machine-readable format. (And hopefully, this machine will not be operated by a terrorist or criminal…)  A 2-D barcode on each REAL ID must contain 10 required pieces of information:

1.) expiration date;

2.) full legal name;

3.) date of transaction;

4.) date of birth;

5.)  gender;

6.)  address;

7.)  unique card number;

8.)  card design revision date;

9.)  inventory control number;

10.) state of issuance.

Note who will be issuing these federally mandated ID’s. A state DMV is tasked with this job,. Even though the REAL ID Act sets forth national standards, the federal law leaves the issuance of these cards in the states’ hands.

All states are working on meeting this national set of standards. No states have been deemed non-compliant with the REAL ID Act; unfortunately, not all states have begun to issue real ID’s. Um, tick, tock! October 1st will be here before you know it!

REAL ID-compliant cards are typically marked with a star at the top of the card. In most states a gold or black star signifies compliance. I’m assuming red stars are not being used because they evoke a connection with China.

How does one get this coveted starred ID? Unfortunately, an in person trip to the DMV is required with pertinent documentation in hand. The applicant must produce proof of identity such as a passport or a birth certificate, a document bearing his Social Security Number, and two documents showing a street address establishing residency such as a utility bill. You’ll also want to take along a wheelbarrow full of patience for dealing with government bureaucracy which was aptly illustrated by the sloth DMV employees in Disney’s “Zootopia.”

Does one REALly need a REAL ID? Well, not necessarily. Obtaining a REAL ID is not mandatory. You don’t need a REAL ID if you are under 18 or if you have an acceptable alternative compliant form of ID. The most common alternative to the REAL ID is a passport, but a U.S. Department of Defense issued ID, including ID’s issued for dependents, is also acceptable.

The biggest impact of the REAL ID requirement will be felt by travelers and those who enter federal buildings. While not a building, an airport is considered a federal facility for which such an ID would be required. To go through a security checkpoint at a commercial airport in the U.S., one must have a REAL ID compliant license. If you don’t have that ID (or an acceptable alternative), you can’t fly. And in these coronavirus infested times, that may not be the worst thing that could happen to someone.

Do I intend to rush out an get a REAL ID compliant Florida driver’s license? Nope. My Florida driver’s license is good for another year and a half, so why would I want to dig out documents, grow old waiting in line to get the ID, and then fork over a chunk of money to get it? I have a valid passport which I don’t plan on using for international travel at the moment (think “coronavirus”). I also have a DoD military “dependent” ID card, so I don’t think I’ll need to be dependent on this new-fangled REAL ID just yet.

Those of you without a passport or a military issued ID will want to get on the stick and obtain a REAL ID if you plan to fly or to visit a nuclear power plant in the future. You might even get through the line before October 1st if you rush down to the DMV now.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever heard of the REAL ID Act? Do you have a star a the top of your driver’s license? Before reading this post did you know what it meant? Do you think using REAL ID’s will lessen the chance of identify theft and security breaches?