The federal government is backing off its demand that Illinois and four other states bring their driver’s licenses and state ID cards to certain federal standards or see their residents face greater hassles at airports as soon as this spring.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced there will be no security changes at airports for at least two years, with any changes beginning no sooner than Jan. 22, 2018, said Henry Haupt, spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
That means Illinois-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards will continue to be accepted as primary forms of identification to board commercial airplanes for domestic travel, Haupt said.
“If people have plans, I’d say go ahead and book that flight,” Haupt said. “Your Illinois driver’s license or ID card should get you right on the plane.”
Nearly 30 states are out of compliance and were operating under waivers that delayed implementation of certain standards specified in the REAL ID Act, which was passed in 2005.
Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington are among those states, and they were notified in December that their requests for an additional extensions were denied. Come Jan. 10 they would have run out of time, Homeland Security had previously announced.
That would have meant that beginning as early as May, Illinoisans would have faced additional security screenings, although neither the Department of Homeland Security nor Transportation Security Administration had made clear what those screenings might include.
The REAL ID Act establishes the minimum requirements a state driver’s license or other state-issued ID must meet before it will be recognized for federal purposes, such as requirements of the Transportation Security Administration.
REAL ID is intended to improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, which should inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent IDs, according to the DHS.
Illinois does have anti-forgery features built into its licenses and will be offering a new version in 2016, but it is short of other requirements the REAL ID Act demands.
The Illinois Secretary of State’s office has said it estimates it will take roughly $60 million spent over two to three years to bring Illinois’ systems and licenses into compliance with REAL ID. Further, White’s office would need both permission and funding decisions from the General Assembly to get started.
The REAL ID Act is not entirely accepted by the states. Some, Illinois included, have passed resolutions opposing the REAL ID Act.
States that have chosen not to comply say the act is an unfunded mandate from the federal government, and they question whether national standards for driver’s licenses and the like will truly deter terrorists.
Many people also see creation of the system, which would link the state databases, as the defacto introduction of a national ID card, or at least the building blocks.
Civil libertarians say they fear the governments imposing mandatory use or swiping of the cards to allow access to, and therefore track, a whole range of citizens’ activities. They say the government is — or is at least attempting to — build its surveillance capability.
The security of citizens’ data also is a concern, as the states’ driver’s license systems would be linked, meaning the data of any state’s drivers would only be as secure as the weakest state’s system.
Different federal agencies and facilities have discretion regarding whether to accept state-issued IDs or require stricter protocols for entry. Some require federal IDs or on-spot screening, whereas others are still accepting driver’s licenses.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network.