By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
February 7, 2008 4:00 AM PST
Editor's note: A May deadline looms as just one flash point in a political showdown between Homeland Security and states that oppose Real ID demands. This is the last in a four-part series examining the confrontation. Today's installment is a set of frequently asked questions, or FAQ, that we hope explains how the Real ID law affects you.
The Real ID law is touted by Homeland Security officials as an anticrime and antiterror measure, but is steadfastly opposed by some state governments on privacy and sovereignty grounds. Computer scientists also have raised concerns about how its creation of a national interlinked database would work in practice. Keep reading for more on Real ID.
Q: When does the Real ID Act take effect?
On May 11, a little more than three months from now. But states like California that have agreed to comply and ones like Pennsylvania that have requested a deadline extension are not affected--driver's licenses from those states will continue to work for entering federal buildings and flying commercially.
Some states seem to have requested an extension as a tactical maneuver with little intention of ever complying. Washington and Idaho may fall into this category. A spokesman for Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told us: "We've asked for an extension, but we still have serious concerns and reservations about it and its future here is to be determined."
Q: Who's going to have trouble flying or entering federal buildings starting May 11?
Residents of the five states--Maine, South Carolina, Montana, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire--that have firmly rejected Real ID. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have not decided yet, meaning they could fall into this category too.
Q: So if I live in Maine, South Carolina, Montana, Oklahoma, or New Hampshire, and I want to fly out of any U.S. airport starting May 11, what happens?
The Bush administration has not answered that question. The Transportation Security Administration referred our questions to the Department of Homeland Security. A Homeland Security spokesman told us: "That's an operational, ongoing issue at this point in time. We'll need to be a bit closer in."
One likely situation is that starting May 11, security checkpoints at all U.S. airports will have a Real ID and a non-Real ID line. Non-Real ID would be in the slow line, which Homeland Security predicts will involve "delays" and "enhanced security screening." (One official with the Portland International Airport even joked about a mandatory "full body cavity search.")
Q: Can I use a U.S. passport instead to get in the fast line?
Yes. If you don't have one, you'd better apply soon. The State Department estimates four to six weeks for processing.
Starting May 11, unless your home state agrees to comply with the federal Real ID Act or unless it asks for an extension, you should expect problems going through security at airports. Click a state below to see what that state has told us about whether or not its ID cards will meet Real ID requirements.
Alabama plans to ask for an extension. "At this point, one option that's being considered is a 'hybrid' approach to Real ID in Alabama, by which the state would offer compliant and noncompliant driver licenses and ID cards. We do plan to ask for an extension."
--Dorris Teague, Public Information/Education Unit, Alabama Department of Public Safety
"Alaska does indeed intend to request an extension to meet the requirements of Real ID. We haven't submitted our extension request yet, but we fully intend to do so in the very near future."
--Whitney Brewster, spokeswoman, Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles
Arizona says that Homeland Security has said the state will "automatically get an extension" because of an existing plan to revamp its licenses, according to Jeanine L'Ecuyer, spokeswoman for Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. That means its driver's licenses and state ID cards will be treated as Real ID-compliant until December 31, 2009.
But L'Ecuyer added that final compliance is still an open question: "Will Arizona do Real ID? Maybe is the honest answer to that question."
"We have asked for the first extension, but in the extension letter, we say we are not committed to implementing Real ID. We just need time to look at it and evaluate it."
--Mike Munns, assistant revenue commissioner for Arkansas
California reiterated in January 2008 that it has no problems complying with Real ID. Its statement did, however, mention "privacy and funding issues, which continue to be a concern for California."
"We requested and received the extension until 2009, and we expect to be fully on the road to implementing Real ID satisfactorily by that point to get another extension in the future if we need to."
--Mark Couch, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Revenue
Connecticut has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "We are still studying the issue. (Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ward) remains supportive of the concept, but no firm decisions have been made."
--Bill Seymour, spokesman for the motor vehicle commissioner.
Delaware has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "The DMV director and secretary are going to give a briefing to the governor next month, February. Because we've got until the end of March to decide...After they have this meeting with the governor is when we're going to make our official choice."
--Mike Williams, spokesman, Delaware Department of Transportation
Florida has not announced whether it will or will not request an extension. "Thanks to the leadership of our governor, cabinet, and legislature, Florida already provides our citizens a secure and safe driver license and identification card, and we are well postured to incorporate any changes that may be required. We applaud the federal government on their efforts to protect all of our citizens with the implementation of this act."
--Ann Nucatola, public information director, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
Georgia has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. The legislature has approved legislation authorizing the governor to reject Real ID if federal regulations do not "adequately safeguard and restrict use of the information in order to protect the privacy rights" of Georgia residents. "Our legislature has to make that determination within the next few months."
--Susan Sports, public information officer, Georgia Department of Driver Services
Hawaii has filed for and received an extension. "We are moving forward on reviewing the rules and coordinating with the county DMVs to see how the rules can be implemented and coordinated."
--Russell Pang, chief of Media Relations for Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle
"We've asked for an extension, but we still have serious concerns and reservations about it and its future here is to be determined."
--Jon Hanian, spokesman for Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter
"We have every intention to file for an extension."
--Henry Haupt, spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White
"We do intend to comply, and we have filed for and received an extension. Over the past couple of years, we've done some security enhancements to our own system that we were going to do regardless of how Real ID rolled out."
--Dennis Rosebrough, spokesman, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles
"Kansas has obtained authorization for the extension, which gets us out to the end of 2009 and affords us the opportunity to see where we are, negotiate a few different things with our vendor and others. It gives us a little breathing room."
--Carmen Alldritt, director of the division of vehicles, Kansas Department of Revenue
"A Real ID would be an entirely new document. The current KY license would not meet the new standard...Kentucky has asked for the extension."
--Mark Brown, spokesman, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
State officials have not responded to repeated requests for information about Real ID compliance. One bill in the state legislature asks Congress to repeal Real ID, while a response to a DMV survey says that "We believe that Louisiana will meet standards."
Will not comply. "There is currently no effort being undertaken within the state to roll back the public law preventing the secretary from moving in the direction of Real ID. It is a situation where Mainers may face some inconvenience at airports come May 11."
--Don Cookson, spokesman for Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap
Maryland requested a deadline extension. "We're still going through 300 pages of federal guidelines. We're currently evaluating those guidelines and then we'll develop a program that is Real ID-compliant."
--Jack Cahalan, spokesman, Maryland Department of Transportation
"Massachusetts did apply for the waiver and received it. We are basically telling (drivers who call us) that we've gotten the exemption, which means that you are going to show your valid driver's license to get on an airplane just as you have in the past until December 2009."
--Ann Dufresne, spokeswoman, Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles.
After December 2009, states can apply for a second extension, but will receive it only if they're taking affirmative steps to comply.
Michigan has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "At this point, we have not requested a waiver. We're still trying to work out some of the details."
--Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lyn Land. The state's Web site says: "There are still many unknowns...Michigan law changes will be necessary."
"We did receive a letter from Homeland Security and it said that our extension had been granted, so that would mean that our documents, our driver's licenses, and ID cards, are compliant until December 31, 2009."
--Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokeswoman
No response to repeated inquiries.
No response to repeated inquiries. The state Web site says: "January 11, 2008 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the final rule establishing minimum security standards for state-issued driver licenses and identification cards. The rule is 284 pages in length. The Missouri Department of Revenue is in the process of reviewing the rules to determine the impact to Missouri."
Montana's legislature has flatly rejected Real ID in a bill that the governor has signed into law. Gov. Brian Schwitzer has called on his colleagues in other states this month to join Montana in opposition to this "major threat to the privacy, constitutional rights, and pocketbooks of ordinary Montanans." Lynn Solomon, a spokeswoman for the Montana attorney general's office, told us: "Right now we're not even sure that the existing Montana law allows us to ask for the extension. We're just sort of sitting tight."
"Nebraska has requested and has been granted an initial extension. That extension does not require you to technically commit to Real ID compliance--it says we need some time, and that's what we said, we need some time. Whether or not Nebraska is ultimately going to be compliant is really for the most part right now in the hands of the legislature."
--Beverly Neth, director, Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles
Nevada has applied for a deadline extension. "Certainly this is something that the governor supports and believes is important, although he believes in some respects it is an unfunded mandate and that the federal government should assist the states with the funding," Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, told us.
New Hampshire last year enacted a law that prohibits the state from changing its driver's license and identification card laws to comply with Real ID. It doesn't appear that is going to change. "As it stands now, the only action that has been taken is legislation to keep us out of it. There would be no way that the state could pass amending legislation or undo that within that time frame; it's just not going to happen. I don't see that anything could be done in the intervening time to change it," Jim Van Dongen, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Safety, told us.
New Jersey has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. Mike Horan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, said there are a number of factors that the state is considering, including cost and wait times at the DMV. "Are the Real ID requirements going to add 15 minutes more to a person's wait? Are we going to need a new computer system to manage the requirements? We're in a bit of a fiscal crisis like many states across the country. That's a major concern--there are so many things that are in need of money."
New Mexico has applied for the first deadline extension from the Department of Homeland Security. "We have not made a final decision on whether we are going to implement Real ID or not," said David Harwell, a spokesman for the state department of taxation and revenue, which issues driver's licenses. "We are in the process of studying all of the regulations that were issued by Secretary (Michael) Chertoff several weeks ago."
New York has already received an "unsolicited extension" from the Department of Homeland Security as part of a recent agreement to change its driver license policies, said Jennifer Givner, deputy press secretary for Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
North Carolina said it will request an extension if it's necessary for state residents to travel after May 11, but has not yet done so. "We're feeling that we are on track to follow along the Real ID plan as it is right now. We don't see any situation at this point where our citizens' driver's licenses would be in jeopardy and keeping them out of federal buildings or off of airplanes...Basically we feel like we're in a good place."
--Marge Howell, spokeswoman, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles
North Dakota has applied for a deadline extension. "Our application is stating that we'd like the extension and we would still like to reserve the opportunity to investigate committing to full implementation," said Linda Butts, deputy director of driver and vehicle services, North Dakota Department of Transportation. "The other thing that's muddying the water is that so many of these rules are long-term and seem to continue to mutate and change a little bit, so that's another thing I think all states are looking at is the cost of implementation. Are these truly going to be the rules in 2015? Will the rules today be the rules that are implemented five, seven years down the road?"
Ohio said this month that it has applied for an extension and was the first state to receive one.
Oklahoma's legislature has approved legislation saying that Real ID "is inimical to the security and well-being of the people of Oklahoma" and, therefore, "the state of Oklahoma shall not participate in the implementation of the Real ID Act." Paul Sund, spokesman for Oklahoma governor's office, told us: "I'm not aware of any repeal efforts, but our legislature does not convene until February 4."
Oregon has requested and received an extension. In the longer term, however, the state may not comply. "Oregon hasn't made a decision for or against compliance with Real ID. But since the final federal rules were released January 10, our legislature is likely to put that on its 2009 agenda."
--David House, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles
Pennsylvania has requested and received an extension. In the longer term, however, the state may not comply. "We're undergoing a comprehensive review of those regulations right now to look at some potential options, the cost that would be involved and also the impact to the citizens of Pennsylvania. Being granted this initial extension just allows us more time to do that and allows the citizens of the commonwealth to continue using their state driver's licenses and IDs through December 31, 2009."
--Danielle Klinger, spokeswoman, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Rhode Island has applied for and received the first deadline extension from DHS, according to state DMV spokeswoman Gina Zanni. "Our governor supports the Real ID initiative," Zanni told us. "We have applied for part of the grant money that has been made available...we'd sure like some money."
South Carolina has enacted legislation saying the state "shall not participate in the implementation of the federal Real ID Act." Beth Parks, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, told us: "Yes, it is true that South Carolina is a non-participatory state for Real ID. The South Carolina legislature is the only entity that can change that position. We are comparing the new regulations to the proposed regulations and our previous cost estimates. Once we have completed our review, we will provide information to South Carolina lawmakers and answer any questions they may have."
"We've applied for an extension and received one, but we have not committed to Real ID yet," said Mitch Krebs, press secretary for South Dakota Gov. Michael Rounds.
"The Department of Safety is conducting a detailed review of the final rules in order to fully evaluate the impact Real ID implementation will have on the citizens of the state of Tennessee. While we anticipate filing an extension, no official request has been signed as of this date.
Keep in mind, an extension request is not necessarily an indication of our intent to comply."
--Mike Browning, spokesman, Tennessee Department of Safety
Texas has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "We're still reading the fine print." --Tela Mange, spokeswoman, Texas Department of Public Safety
Utah has requested and received a deadline extension. "Our driver's license division is not a policy-making body. It would be up to the legislature and the governor. We are currently going through our legislative session--it just started. That will be one of the topics, whether to go through with it."
--Sgt. Jeff Nigbur, spokesman, Utah Department of Public Safety
"Vermont requested and was granted an extension until December 31, 2009."
--John Zicconi, spokesman, Vermont Agency of Transportation
Virginia has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "The Virginia DMV is currently reviewing the regulations to determine our next steps."
--Melanie Stokes, spokeswoman, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation last year prohibiting the state from implementing Real ID unless the federal government provides funding and greater privacy protections. But, in an apparent effort to avoid inconveniencing state residents in May, Gregoire requested a compliance extension. "By not filing an extension, effective May 11, Washingtonians would have automatically been subject to additional security screenings at airports and federal buildings," Gregoire said in a recent statement. It also said: "I will not allow for confusion and chaos at our busy airports. This extension will allow our residents to continue use of their Washington state driver license or ID card to board planes and enter federal buildings...The federal regulations on Real ID compliance are ambiguous, and I share funding and privacy concerns held by many state legislators."
West Virginia has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "In West Virginia we are still weighing our options based upon the recent changes to the act's requirements."
--Susan Watkins, spokeswoman, West Virginia Department of Transportation
Wisconsin has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "We've not made a final determination regarding next steps for Wisconsin as it relates to Real ID," said Patrick Fernan, operations manager for the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles. "We have not requested an extension as of yet."
Wyoming plans to request a deadline extension. "Unless the law for implementation of Real ID is changed in Washington D.C. or our Wyoming Legislature passes legislation not to comply with the Real ID, we will work toward implementation," said Jim O'Connor, support services administrator for the Wyoming Department of Transportation. He added, however: "We are concerned about this unfunded federal mandate and the effect it will have on the people of Wyoming."
The nation's capital has not decided whether to comply with Real ID, reject it completely, or request an extension to keep its options open. "The DC DMV is still deciding on next steps," said public information officer Janis Hazel. "Nothing further to report at this time."
Q: If I live in one of those noncompliant states, how do I access federal buildings, including courthouses, veteran's hospitals, Social Security offices, and so on?
At airports, at least, you can get in the slow lane and eventually get past security. There's no equivalent option for federal buildings that require ID: it appears that you'll simply be denied access unless you have a passport or military ID. (Remember, of course, that not all federal buildings require ID.)
Ironically, one option for federal agencies is to stop requiring photo ID completely. Another is to be liberal in what they accept as valid identification; you could always try your Sam's Club card or library card instead. Homeland Security already has relaxed supposedly strict rules about what ID is accepted at border crossings.
Q: Will the federal government issue more regulations about when I have to show a Real ID license?
Probably. One Homeland Security official told Congress last year that Real ID could be used for "reducing unlawful employment, voter fraud, and underage drinking." Another recently suggested that Americans buying cold medicines like Sudafed with pseudoephedrine could be required to show Real ID.
Q: Does Homeland Security have the authority to do that kind of expansion, or can only Congress expand Real ID?
Homeland Security has the authority. The text of the law says that, starting May 11, "a federal agency may not accept, for any official purpose, a driver's license or identification card issued by a state to any person unless the state is meeting the requirements of this section." Official purpose is defined to include "any other purposes" that Homeland Security thinks is wise.
The potential list of "purposes" could be long. Real ID could in theory be required for traveling on Amtrak, collecting federal welfare benefits, signing up for Social Security, applying for student loans, interacting with the U.S. Postal Service, entering national parks, and so on.
Q: What about buying firearms?
That's an open question. Homeland Security last month refused to rule out requiring Real ID for firearm purchases in the future.
When asked about requiring Real ID to buy a firearm, Homeland Security replied: "DHS will continue to consider additional ways in which a Real ID license can or should be used and will implement any changes to the definition of 'official purpose' or determinations regarding additional uses for Real ID consistent with applicable laws and regulatory requirements. DHS does not agree that it must seek the approval of Congress as a prerequisite to changing the definition in the future."
Q: Which presidential candidates voted for Real ID?
All of them who were members of Congress at the time voted for Real ID except Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican.
The vote in Congress was overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal, part of a broader government spending and tsunami relief bill that was approved unanimously by the Senate and by a vote of 368 to 58 in the House of Representatives. Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain voted for it.
Q: What kind of information about me is going to be stored on the Real ID card?
This hasn't changed substantially since our earlier FAQ published nearly three years ago. At a minimum: name, birth date, sex, ID number, a digital photograph, address, and a "common machine-readable technology" that Homeland Security approves. The card must also sport "physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes."
Q: Does "common machine-readable technology" mean RFID?
Not at this point. Homeland Security has said it is not requiring that states use RFID chips, or radio frequency ID chips, in Real ID licenses. Instead, what's required is a two-dimensional barcode called PDF417. Many states already print this or a similar barcode on their driver's licenses.
Q: Will the information about me on the PDF417 barcode, such as my home address, be encrypted to prevent a bank or a bar or any other business from swiping it and adding me to their database?
No. Homeland Security said it would be too much work "given law enforcement's need for easy access to the information." It is, however, "open to considering technology alternatives to the PDF417 2D bar code in the future to provide greater privacy protections," which could mean RFID chips in the future. U.S. passports already have RFID chips embedded.
Q: What kind of data will states share under Real ID?
Real ID will require states to share detailed information about anyone with a state ID card or driver's license, perhaps through a network called AAMVAnet, which the Department of Transportation is paying to expand in hopes of supporting the massive amount of data that will be exchanged. Databases owned by Social Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will also be integrated. The idea is that this will allow documents such as birth certificates to be validated online.
Many of the details remain unclear because Homeland Security has not made final decisions, including about whether to build on top of AAMVAnet or expand a centralized federal database already used for commercial driver's licensing. Computer scientists and privacy advocates unsuccessfully urged Homeland Security to reject Real ID as "unworkable" because of the security and scalability concerns.
Q: If there's no encryption, is there at least a federal law saying that banks and bars and so on are prohibited from compiling databases of personal information based on Real ID licenses?
No. Some states like California and Texas have passed laws restricting the use of information from a swiped driver's license. But there is no federal law.
Q: I heard something about Homeland Security giving states more time to issue Real ID-compliant licenses. What is the absolute deadline for all of this to be finished?
To make Real ID more palatable to state governments, Homeland Security extended the final deadline beyond what the text of the statute says.
In the final rule released last month, DHS said the deadline for all states to comply would be December 1, 2017. Only states that can prove they are well on their way to implementing Real ID qualify for this deadline extension.
Q: What does this mean for me if I live in one of the states that will eventually comply with Real ID?
It's difficult to answer this question because state governments told us they haven't had enough time to digest the final rules that Homeland Security published last month.
In general, state motor vehicle agencies will be required to verify that you are who you claim to be, which could require that you provide additional paperwork and original documents. This could mean higher costs and longer wait times at the DMV.
Q: Why do we have Real ID, anyway?
It depends on who you ask. The Bush administration will tell you that it stems from the 9/11 Commission's suggestions, and it'll make the country safer. The administration will also point out that some of the September 11 hijackers had fake driver's licenses.
Critics respond by saying the September 11 hijackers could have just as easily boarded those flights using foreign passports. Another criticism is that Real ID licenses are tantamount to a national ID card, something unique in American history.
Q: What about religious objections?
Thousands of Americans do not have photographs on their driver's licenses or state ID cards, usually because of religious objections. Approximately a dozen states currently allow this, but Real ID does not. Therefore, those licenses without photos will not be valid for flying or federal buildings starting May 11.
Q: Is there any chance that the next administration or Congress will roll back these requirements before they kick in?
It's a little early to tell. Obama and Clinton have both expressed some concerns about Real ID, while McCain enthusiastically supports it.
Q: Is all this really going to happen? Or could Homeland Security change its mind?
Yes, it's possible that something could change. But neither Homeland Security nor the non-Real ID states show any signs of blinking. In addition, any legal changes would probably have to originate with Congress--where a proposal to amend Real ID has been stuck in a Senate committee since February 2007.
Federal regulations creating a uniform national ID card--called Real ID--take effect on May 11. If your state hasn't agreed in principle to upgrade its driver's licenses to be Real ID-compliant, you could have trouble traveling by air and taking advantage of some government services.
A CNET News.com survey shows that just over half of the states have signed up, while some have flatly refused to participate, typically citing costs or sovereignty worries. Privacy is another concern, with a mandatory barcode on Real ID cards lacking encryption or legal prohibitions against misuse, and mandatory linking of states' motor vehicle databases.
Monday: Real ID could mean real travel headaches
In just over four months, millions of law-abiding Americans could face new hassles when traveling on commercial flights if they hold driver's licenses or ID cards issued by states that haven't agreed to comply with Real ID. Homeland Security is already predicting "delays" and "enhanced security screening" procedures for those Americans in the non-Real ID line at the airport.
Tuesday: Federal buildings become Real ID zones
Everyone from visitors to the U.S. Capitol building to jurors being called to duty in federal courthouses could be affected by Real ID's requirement that noncompliant driver's licenses may not be used to access "federal facilities." Homeland Security says it "cannot predict" how many Americans in non-Real ID states will be inconvenienced.
Wednesday: Religious minorities face Real ID crackdown
Some U.S. states have long allowed citizens with religious objections to avoid having their photograph on driver's licenses. The Amish, Old Order Mennonites, and some Muslim women fall into this category. But licenses without photographs don't comply with Real ID, a rule that could invite a legal challenge.
Thursday: FAQ: How will Real ID affect you?
What are the privacy implications? What happens next? This list of frequently asked questions tries to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the controversial law.
Editors: Michelle Meyers, Desiree Everts
Design: Shaun Charity
Production: Daniel Judd
Survey: Anne Broache
60 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment