What is Real ID?

The individual states that make up the United States are now required to up the ante on identity documents to meet new “Real ID” standards. In the making for 12 years, the enhanced security requirements stem from a 2005 Federal Act known as the Real ID Act.  It calls for states to adhere to more stringent security standards when issuing identity documents. States shall continue to retain the right to issue their own identity documents, but must abide by stricter standards for the application process, card issuance and card design.

The federal government has currently issued three types of statuses to monitor states’ adoption of Real ID. They can be deemed “compliant,” “noncompliant” and “noncompliant with an extension.” If a state were to be noncompliant (no states currently are in this category), residents would not be permitted to utilize their identity document for federal identification.

How will it impact passengers in U.S. airports?

The Real ID Act is slated to be implemented in stages. The first stage, pertaining to air travel, is scheduled to begin on January 22. This means that the identity documents of passengers must be Real ID in order to be accepted at airport security checkpoints. After this date, IDs from noncompliant states will not be permitted, unless the state has been granted an extension.

What will this mean for TSA?

Whereas the number of passengers showing up at U.S. checkpoints with state identity cards has, to date, been minimal, the workload is about to increase significantly. If certain states do not meet the Real ID deadline, it will mean that TSA cannot accept IDs from anyone with a form of ID from that state, and will have to confirm identity by another means.  The number of travelers falling into this category could be huge, and validating their identity will be an extremely cumbersome task for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Why does any of this matter?

The fiasco that could be caused at U.S. checkpoints by states going “noncompliant” (and/or the cost associated with developing a quick fix solution) will force a conversation around intra-state and federal government collaboration related to identity validation. TSA does not issue personal IDs, therefore they have to rely on other state or federal government (e.g. State Department) verification.  As we move to biometric authentication at U.S. checkpoints and in U.S. airports more broadly, how will the information be validated on the back-end?  Who will hold the clearinghouse?  Real ID is sparking interesting debates around these topics.


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