Let's Get Real

June 12, 2019

Real ID, that is.  Heard of it?  Got yours? Since 2005, it’s the law... sorta.  It’s an odd duck; it may affect your personal life, or as a frequent airline traveler as we in the industry are known to do, or as airport management seeking to verify the identity of people we hire...  that’s a different law...they’re everywhere. 

Essentially, it’s a law that sets minimum standards for driver’s licenses and certain other ID cards so they will be acceptable by Federal agencies.  It’s not a separate new ID in your pocket; it’s mostly the same one(s) you’ve been using for years, but structured quite differently and with some new functionalities, including an RFID chip.  The catch is that the deadline for compliance is only about 15 months away – October 1, 2020 -  or your State driver’s license won’t get you through TSA security, or Customs, or access to other government services, or through the FBI clearance process for your new employees.  There’s an excellent DHS summary web page here,  

The original deadline was in 2008, but not to worry, you didn’t miss it...it was extended several times because some states couldn’t get their act together in time.  Congress doesn’t have the authority to set State standards, but they got around that by not allowing Federal agencies to accept non-compliant State IDs.

Even now, it’s a bit of a problem where, for example, my own current 10-year driver’s license doesn’t expire until 2025, but Maryland’s DMV is going to have to reissue it anyway – and a few million more - five years early.  Right now, 48 States and territories are already compliant; five have been granted extensions until the 2020 deadline: Oregon, Oklahoma, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maine and American Samoa.  California apparently didn’t read the law very carefully, issuing more than 3 million Real IDs without the required second proof of residency. Four States (Tennessee, Utah, Ohio and Hawaii) issued Real IDs without the identifying black or gold star, so you folks need to check with your state DMV to determine any needed additional identification... there are no nationwide standards. 

So why is all this in Airport Business Magazine, aside from our sincere desire to help your airport avoid the coming chaos when half of your passengers are turned away from the checkpoint and half of your employees don’t clear their FBI background checks.  TSA can accept other forms of ID such as passport, federal ID, Global Entry, military CAC ID, and more – link here.

Finally, there continues to be some public and industry confusion between Real ID and the recent introduction of facial recognition software some airlines are now using as ID for boarding passes.  Easy answer: No Connection Whatsoever.  As of October 2020, Real ID remains the Federally required, government issued, enhanced photo identification medium.  Facial recognition software is being tested only at certain airports by Delta, JetBlue and a few others, at check-in, bag-drop, and at boarding gates in lieu of paper or mobile phone passes. It is used by CBP on international flights to verify ID; it is not used to go through passenger screening, although TSA is still considering it.  It’s important to note that US citizens have the right to opt out of facial; DHS has repeatedly told Congress that it is optional for citizens (for now), but if you do so, your travel documents will be manually inspected, probably in a separate and much slower line. 

Facial recognition technology has undoubtedly improved significantly in the past few years, but it still has significant recognition problems with certain ethnicities and skin tones, among other issues, not the least of which is privacy. There are several organizations that actively oppose its use, especially in mass public surveillance applications such as an airport terminal; we’ll explore those in future discussions.  I find it interesting to note that your passport and driver’s license photos act as facial recognition, although they reside in different government data bases.   Hmmmm.