Because some of the 9/11 terrorists used fraudulent driver’s licenses to travel, Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 to comply with the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government establish minimum standards for the issuance of forms of identification, such as state driver’s licenses. After many starts, stops, and delays, the deadline set by the government for full enforcement of the Act is October 1, 2020. By that date, individuals must have compliant IDs in order to access certain federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants, and, importantly, board any commercial aircraft – even for in-country flights.

Acceptable identification would include passports, border ID cards, trusted traveler cards, permanent resident cards, and REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses, among others. For a state driver’s license to be REAL ID-compliant, states must verify that the individual applying for the license is legally in the U.S. and biometrics were used for identification purposes. This was easier said than done. It required setting up new databases and new technologies. Not only is that an expensive proposition for states, many have expressed privacy concerns and some state legislatures blocked compliance.

While most individuals have been able to board aircrafts with state-issued driver’s licenses if the state was compliant with REAL ID or if the state was granted an extension to become compliant, by October 1, 2020, individuals must have identification compliant with REAL ID standards to even pass through security. Minors under 18, travelling with an adult with REAL ID-compliant identification, will not need such documentation.

Most, but not all, REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses have a black or gold star on the front. States will not automatically send individuals compliant driver’s licenses. Individuals must apply in person and bring identifying documentation, such as a birth certificate or a passport. Individuals with a passport, or one of the other designated documents, may not need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. Although DHS has not recommended which form of identification is “best,” the State Department has been encouraging all U.S. citizens to apply for passports. Currently, about 40 percent of Americans have passports. Of course, passports are more expensive than REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses, but they serve other purposes, such as for international travel.

TSA has launched a public-awareness campaign, including new signs that will be popping up at airports around the country.

Please contact Jackson Lewis with any questions.