Without REAL ID driver's license, will TSA require passport if plane never leaves USA?

When you were little, a gold star was a reward and a symbol of doing a good job. Now that you are grown up, “good” boys and girls who verify their identity—and are in a facial recognition database—get REAL ID gold stars on their driver’s licenses. For those people, nothing will change when dealing with the TSA. But in April, will people from “bad” states, without a gold star on their driver’s license, need a backup “approved” ID like a passport to board a plane that never leaves America?  

Real ID gold star on driver's license

What does that gold star really mean? It means you’ve shown a ton of paperwork to prove you are a U.S. citizen and that you are in a facial recognition database. It’s not like you really had a choice in the matter, either your state complied with REAL ID or it didn’t. The REAL ID Act has been around since 2005, but some states chose to call it “Secure ID” and talked up how it could guard against identity theft. These states prohibited smiling in driver’s license photos since a smile could supposedly confuse facial recognition. In those states, you don’t walk out with the new license; your information is sent off, verified, added to a facial recognition database, and the new “Secure ID” is mailed to you in about two weeks.

So that must mean there is no identity theft in the DHS-certified-as-REAL-ID-compliant states? Whoops, Houston, we seem to have a problem, as “REAL ID” hasn’t killed the identity theft bogeyman. In fact, according to the FTC’s last Consumer Sentinel Network report, the top 10 states where identity theft runs rampant are: 1) Florida, 2) Georgia, 3) California, 4) Michigan, 5) New York, 6) Nevada, 7) Texas, 8) Arizona, 9) Maryland and 10) Alabama. But only New York and Arizona are listed among the states that do not meet the law’s “REAL ID” standards.

REAL ID was supposed to go into effect in May 2008, but the government has delayed enforcing it four different times. Right now, “Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Washington state do not currently meet the law's standards, according to DHS. Another 15 states do not yet meet the requirements but have asked the federal government for more time to do so. They all have extensions through October and can renew those extensions.”

AxXiom for Liberty’s Kaye Beach, who has written tirelessly about Real ID and RFID, previously explained, “Under REAL ID, licenses are to be machine readable and contain biometric data (including facial biometrics). This and other information is to be shared nationally and internationally.”

REAL ID compliant driver's license

Around the same time, Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License (CSDL) warned that, “People who obtain non-compliant driver's licenses need to know that they will have to provide other acceptable IDs, such as passports, to get through security screening at the airports."

Stopping terrorists from obtaining driver’s licenses was supposedly why Congress passed the REAL ID Act nearly a decade ago. Yet in a report last year, CSDL Director of Research Max Bluestein said, "The al-Qaeda training manual explicitly instructs operatives to obtain fake IDs - a key part of the process of their attacks. This directive was followed by the 9/11 terrorists and these documents continue to play a crucial operational role in many of the 60 major terrorist plots uncovered since."

60? NSA Chief General Keith Alexander claimed “54” or “more than 50” potential terrorist events had been thwarted by government surveillance since 9/11; he later admitted that only 13 were even related to the U.S. and only “one, perhaps two were halted by business records collections.” It’s important to point out that despite being privy to classified NSA metadata surveillance program material, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board testified [pdf], “We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."

Equating not having a REAL ID driver’s license to potentially having a fake ID to carry out terrorism is a stretch. 13 states don’t have REAL ID, so is the TSA going to stop people without a gold star on their driver’s license from boarding a plane? "Nobody has ever done this before,” Zimmer recently admitted, “so enforcing this law is going to be a major challenge."

In April, the law kicks in, so I guess we’ll find out if the TSA will require a passport in lieu of a REAL ID driver’s license. But ACLU attorney Chris Calabrese said, "It is impossible to imagine DHS keeping the citizens of any of those states off of airplanes.”

Uncle Sam, REAL ID, TSA security

USA Today reported that residents living in holdout states will really face consequences "sometime after 2016," as "they will no longer be able to board commercial aircraft with only their driver's license."

It seems as ridiculous as submitting to TSA security pat-downs that Americans would need a passport to board a plane that never leaves the USA and might not even leave the state in which the flight originated. In fact, it brings to mind a time when the TSA had plans to track all daily travel regardless of if it was to work, to the grocery store, or to social events.

Two years ago, senior policy analyst at the Center for Health and Homeland Security Vernon R. Herron told MSNBC:

that your official travel document "will not only have information as to who you are and where you have traveled, but it will also ... allow government officials to track your travel not only in the air, but your daily travels to work, grocery stores and social events." In the future the "government will detain passengers who have traveled to places that are suspicious in nature" once they enter an airport, Herron added. "All these measures seem extreme. However, after we declared a war on terror, we must be more proactive than reactive when it comes to airport security."

That seemed fairly unrealistic at the time. But now ... who knows? Once upon a time, Homeland Security was also testing mind-reading terrorist 'pre-crime' detectors.

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