REAL ID Deadlines Threaten America's Post-COVID Travel Plans. Could We Please Kill This Law?

More than half of Americans don’t have these new licenses. Airports are supposed to start checking them by October.


As more people get vaccinated and America reopens, a year's worth of canceled or delayed vacations are returning to our calendars. But a pending deadline for American air travelers to get a federally compliant ID could wreck a lot of travel plans.

Starting on October 1, airports are supposed to enforce the part of the REAL ID Act that requires domestic travelers to have federally approved ID. A driver's license or state identification is not enough unless that identification is compliant with the REAL ID regulations. (U.S. passports are compliant.)

The REAL ID Act was passed in 2005. It was sold as a post-9/11 national security measure, though it was ultimately more about making it harder for immigrants who are in the country illegally to travel—another reminder that oppressive anti-immigrant regulations will eventually fall on legal citizens too.

States have been resisting compliance with the REAL ID Act ever since it was passed, and the deadline has been pushed back repeatedly. There was another deadline last October, but the pandemic delayed it for yet another year. Nonetheless, only 43 percent of driver's licenses are currently REAL ID–compliant. The pandemic has led to even longer wait times for anybody attempting to get to get anything done at their local Department of Motor Vehicles.

ABC reports that the feds are under pressure to delay the deadline again. You can see why: Just imagine the airport nightmare when nearly six out of every 10 travelers is told he or she can't board a plane.

What the ABC report doesn't ask is whether the rationale for these REAL IDs holds up more than 15 years after the law was passed. If these federal IDs were actually necessary, surely we would have seen some examples of them protecting us from terrorism in the decade and a half it has taken to implement the cards.

In fact, it has not. Instead, the government is demanding that Americans give up more of their privacy to the feds, subject themselves to additional inane bureaucracy, and carry around proof that we're citizens to be able to fly, even though none of that makes us more secure. Americans attempting to fly internationally are now being pushed to submit to facial recognition scans in order to travel. This is ostensibly to catch impersonators, but it has caught zero imposters traveling through airports.

Dump the law. It was bad when it passed, which is why individuals and groups across the political spectrum opposed it. It's even more clearly bad now. Rather than trying to figure out how to get half of America to the DMV to get a new license, Homeland Security should take note the 15 years that showed they aren't needed to keep us safe.