The Real ID squeeze — do we need passports to fly domestically?


Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), just finished a wide ranging discussion of the state of national security ranging from the status of securing maritime cargo and secure flight to foreign repair station rules and TSA unionization.

All these subjects have been bandied about for some time, but one subject is reaching a critical point — what to do about Real ID. Thirty states will are unlikely to meet the December 31, 2009 deadline.

If either the Secretary does not extend the current law, or Congress doesn’t pass the new PASS ID legislation before December 31st, the form of identifications that most American use everyday, their driver’s licenses, will no longer be accepted for security checks at airports to board domestic flights.

Granted, DHS has a secret loophole for those without ID to travel, however, it will mean secondary searches for the majority of passengers if current driver’s licenses from 30 states are not considered acceptable ID. I don’t even want to imagine the holdup at security.

Plus, for many passengers with airline tickets who might not know of this loophole that allows those without IDs to board, this rule will be confusing. Many may think they have to change plans, cancel flights and pay major penalties. Having such a major change in the day-to-day activities of tax-paying Americans left so uncertain within 28 days of implementation is dereliction of duty by DHS.

The Real ID Act also bars access to federal buildings to folks stuck with unreal ID at the start of the New Year. I haven’t heard of any loophole for that rule yet.

This all seems a bit surreal.

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico asked Secretary Napolitano, at the Senate committee hearings, directly, whether she would assure all Americans that she would extend the current identification laws at the end of the year to allow Americans to continue boarding planes. He suggested that she do it right then in front of the committee. She declined, citing a new law, PASS ID, that may or may not be passed by the Senate.

“As you know, more than 30 states, including New Mexico, are unlikely to meet the December 31, 2009 deadline,” Udall noted. “While we understand the Administration’s desire to enact the PASS ID Act in lieu of granting an additional extension, the uncertainty surrounding the steps the Department may or may not take if the legislation is not signed into law is creating confusion and raising serious concerns in the many states that are not currently in full compliance with existing law.”

Senator Udall is absolutely correct. The Secretary of Homeland Security should not be playing chicken with Congress and the American people. Obviously, the Real ID law is on its way into oblivion and something new is coming. The only question is when.

As a columnist for “What’s Brewin” on noted, he may not be able to fly home from Hawaii after his Christmas vacation.

Otherwise, I’ve figured out an update to the Kingston Trio’s 1959 hit, “The MTA Song,” about the man who never returned from a trip on the Boston subway system because he did not have an extra nickel for a transfer.

So, sing along with me:

Bob handed his drivers license
At the TSA counter
To get on the plane
“Where’s your passport?” the TSA agent asked
Bob could not get on that plane.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d

He may stay forever
On the beaches of Hawaii
He’s the man who never returned

Guess he doesn’t know about the secret loophole. There are probably more citizens out there who may be similarly confused. With 28 days to go, this isn’t funny any more.

Secretery Napolitano owes it to American citizens to let them know what will be required of them in order to fly come January 1st. I see no purpose being served by waiting until the last minute in order to force legislative action on the coming PASS ID act. When the Congress acts in haste as they did with Real ID, Americans are saddled with laws that are not workable and difficult to get off the books.

Let the American people know what’s happening and try to get the national identification processes right this time around. No matter what Secretary Napolitano claims, the new PASS ID act still has plenty of problems with technology, costs and privacy.

NOTE: It appears that Sec. Napolitano has blinked. A DHS spokeman issued the following statement after the Senate hearing:

“Should Congress not act before it adjourns this year, DHS has planned for contingencies related to REAL ID implementation, including extending the deadline as a last resort,” he added. “This is a temporary approach that does not advance our security interests over the long-term, and DHS continues to urge Congress to enact a permanent solution to fulfill this key 9/11 Commission recommendation.”

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  • john

    Charlie … it isn’t Homeland Security’s problem that states failed to act to make their IDs compliant. Why aren’t you harping on the states? How many years have they had to change their IDs to be compliant and failed to do so? 40% of the states were some how about to make it happen.

    Otherwise, we’ll just become like Europe where your passport is the preferred form of ID to get on an airplane. Even when staying within the same country.

  • Tim

    John – why harp on the states when they were given all these inane rules but no money to implement them?

    Instead, we should tell the US federal government to mind the Constitution and butt out where the States have the say–like in state-issued drivers’ licenses.

    Of course, the US federal government has over-stepped its boundaries for decades, so I guess I should not be surprised about this REAL ID/ PASS ID stupidity. If we can’t trust the states to determine who should be given ID’s, how could we trust the US federal government? I trust those in Washington less than I do in my state’s capital.

  • MCGJr.

    And, pray tell, WHERE is the LIST of the states that have not complied so your readers will know if they REALly have an ID problem????

  • Charlie Leocha

    For an overview of the current situation see There are maps showing the overall rebellion against the Real ID Act. Here is another interactive map.

  • Dave

    It’s the states’ fault they have not enacted laws guaranteeing secure ID’s. I suspect it’s tied up with issue of whether to issue Drivers’ Licenses to illegal aliens. What is REALLY needed is a national ID. But wait, we have one — it’s the US Passport!

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for raising awareness of this important issue. I just bought a January plane ticket without being aware of this potential problem.
    I went to both the links you referenced above, but neither has a concise list of who is in compliance and who is not in the eyes of the federal government.
    A Wikipedia article on this subject also mentions that states may file an extension to the upcoming deadline, which allows them until 5/11/2011.

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  • clarise

    so with the passport law felon’s can’t fly anymore. so my brother who did his time and is a tax paying american with a family and a bussiness can no longer fly. this is very funny to me because the idoits who flew the planes into the buildings …HAD PASSPORTS…
    I think this is just a nother way to make the middle american suffer.
    family’s can barely afford to fly to see grandma and grandpa. now the have to spend hundreds of dollars to get passports. the airlines already suffer so people will just drie and they will stop flying.