It took nearly two decades after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil for every state to finally comply with a federal law requiring minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards. The measure, known as the REAL ID Act, was passed by Congress after 9/11 to establish a more secure national system less prone to fraud after several of the hijackers exploited loopholes to obtain dozens of driver’s licenses from various states. The cards allowed them to take flight lessons and board planes to carry out the 2001 attacks. At the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, Congress passed the law in 2005 and states originally had until 2011 to comply, though the Obama administration tried to drastically weaken the legislation. Obama Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano granted a 20-month extension on the deadline as she worked behind the scenes to undermine the Real ID Act, asserting that it violates civil liberties and privacy.
The measure’s crucial verification process requires states to certify the authenticity of every driver’s license applicant by requiring that documents, such as a birth certificate or passport, be submitted to get the card are legitimate and that the applicant is in the United States legally. It also calls for a newly created federal database to link all licensing information that must be checked before states issue new cards. This will establish a much-needed standardized national driver’s license system less vulnerable to fraud and will prevent terrorists from abusing it as did September 11 hijackers. Once the law is fully enforced, federal agencies will be prohibited from accepting driver’s licenses or ID cards from noncompliant states for official purposes, including boarding an aircraft, accessing a federal facility, and entering a nuclear power plant.
Of interesting note is that about a dozen states—including Arkansas, California, Maine, and Oregon—offer gender-neutral licenses and ID cards in violation of the REAL ID Act. So does Washington D.C., the famously corrupt local government surrounding the nation’s capital. Nevertheless, Title II of the act specifically states that “features on each driver’s license and identification card issued to a person by the State” must include: The person’s full legal name; the person’s date of birth; the person’s gender; the person’s driver’s license or identification card number; a digital photograph of the person; the person’s address of principle residence; the person’s signature; physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes; a common machine-readable technology with defined minimum data elements.
It is not clear how the feds will handle the gender-neutral licenses, which in most cases include choices such as “non-binary” and “undesignated.” In D.C., depending on what option is chosen, an “X” appears on the card in the place of an “M” for male or “F” for female. Some states—including Georgia, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, and Wyoming—resisted complying with the REAL ID Act altogether and vowed to pass bills ordering officials to ignore the measure. Other states, such as California, implemented legislation to give special driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who will not meet the security standards under the federal law. Thankfully, the Trump administration cemented a deadline for all states to comply with the crucial anti-terrorism law enacted a decade and a half ago to protect the nation from another attack. Incredibly, some federal lawmakers are still trying to buy more time. Among them is Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy, who wrote a letter to the president earlier this year claiming that “Real America needs a REAL ID extension” to avoid disrupting “the lives or livelihoods of hardworking citizens.”
This month the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) delivered the good news; all 50 states are finally in full compliance with the REAL ID Act, with most states becoming compliant in the last four years under pressure from the Trump administration. “To date, the 50 states have issued more than 105 million REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards, representing 38 percent of all driver’s licenses and identification card holders,” according to the announcement issued by DHS. In less than a year full enforcement of REAL ID will take effect at all federally regulated airports, federal facilities and nuclear power plants, the bulletin further states. That means federal agencies, such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), will be prohibited from accepting licenses and ID cards that do not meet the law’s standards. It only took 15 years after Congress passed the legislation and nearly two decades since Islamic terrorists attacked the nation.