Americans from several U.S. states and territories may soon be unable to use their drivers’ licenses to board planes or enter any federal facilities if states don’t act fast to comply with new federal standards.
The Department of Homeland Security wants to begin enforcing the 10-year old Real ID Act this year, which requires states to issue driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards that comply with a set of federal standards. These standards include requiring that states acquire stringent proof of identity before issuing any IDs and that states verify the legal residency of anyone who receives an ID.
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The Act also requires states to share the personal information of all ID holders in a national database administered by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
That’s what raises a red flag with privacy advocates who worry that centralizing Americans’ personal information in a giant database would be an open invitation to criminal hackers who want to steal their identity’s or worse. They also worry that the Act would create something along the lines of a national identification card. (Biometric national I.D. cards are used by most members of the European Union in lieu of a passport to travel.)
Some states have also objected to the law because they say it comes with too high a cost. The government says that the program will cost around $3.9 billion and that states have been given grants to help implement the transition.
Proponents of the law say that the law reduces identity theft and fraud and improves the nation’s security. In fact, the law was passed as a response to a suggestion from the 9/11 Commission to improve the security of drivers’ licenses because four of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks used state-issued drivers’ licenses to get through airport security.
Although the federal government has delayed implementing the law four times since May 2008, Homeland Security officials say the law will be enforced in 2016. While state governments can’t be forced into adopting these standards, people without the new IDs can be prevented from entering federal facilities, like military bases and nuclear plants, and from boarding commercial planes.
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Most states are already in compliance with the standards or have been given extensions until October or June of 2016, but nine U.S. states or territories are set to have their exemptions expire on Jan. 10, 2016. These include California, Guam, North Marianas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington.
While the DHS said that states would be given 120 days’ notice before the law went into effect at airports, some passengers are going to have difficulty getting through security if they have a non-compliant type of ID card.
To find out if your state is in compliance…and whether your current driver’s license meets the new standards, go to Homeland Security to check their interactive map and get more information.