Earlier this year, we wrote about the Real ID Act ("Real ID, real trouble," Feb. 26), the federally mandated changes to state identification cards that will, eventually, determine whether Americans can board a commercial flight. Back then, Louisiana was one of 37 states that had not brought its drivers' licenses and state ID cards up to the new federal standard. Some early whistleblowers (including lawyer and blogger C.B. Forgotston) were sounding the alarm about the possibility of Louisianans eventually needing a passport to board even short flights or enter certain federal facilities.
Seven months and one legislative session since we wrote that editorial, Louisiana is no closer to settling the matter. In fact, the state task force charged with the issue came away from a meeting this month more confused than ever about what it will take to meet federal anti-terrorism requirements. Whatever the decision, it seems unlikely to mollify privacy advocates, who are squalling, with some justification, about what they see as a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt at establishing a national identity card.
How did the Real ID Act come about? Like the Patriot Act — another piece of wide-ranging legislation that created concerns about privacy and other individual rights — the Real ID Act stemmed directly from the 9/11 attacks. Real ID was recommended in the 9/11 Commission report, passed by Congress in 2005 and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. The original deadline for the states and U.S. jurisdictions to comply with the new federal standards was May 2008. That deadline was extended to December 2009 when it became clear that no one was ready. States were allowed to file for an additional extension, to May 2011, if they met several benchmarks. Finally, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted one final extension — to 2013 — and here we are.
State Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, head of Louisiana's Real ID Task Force, called officials together earlier this month to find out when the feds would start enforcing the rule, which is now in its ninth year of being unenforced. As it turns out, even those in charge don't know — Stephen Campbell, commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV), told Perry and others he didn't know when the feds would begin to enforce the act. The Advocate quoted Campbell as saying he was "pretty sure" Louisianans could use their current drivers' licenses as airport identification "through Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least."
On his blog (www.forgotston.com), Forgotston wrote, "Someone should have asked what 'coming months' meant. ... Perhaps we can still use our driver's licenses to fly out, but might need them to return home after the first of the year?"
We agree. If officials in charge of enacting Real ID don't know the rules, how can the public know?
The entire Real ID program has been an expensive boondoggle, and most of the blame lies with the federal government. The recent revelations about the depth and breadth of the National Security Agency's domestic spying on Americans also provides additional fodder — and credence — to those who object to what amounts to a system of national identity cards. And if you think the state's OMV offices are a nightmare when you have to go in to get your license renewed once every four or eight years, imagine the lines when millions of Louisianans show up with their birth certificates and other official paperwork so their drivers' licenses can be transformed into cards that meet the Real ID standards.
Last week, Americans everywhere reflected on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It's also worth reflecting on the money we've spent and the rights we've lost under legislation enacted to "protect" us — measures such as the Patriot Act (which, you'll remember, was to have "sunsetted" years ago, but Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama each extended some of its more onerous provisions) and Real ID.
We've lived for eight years without Real ID, but who knows how much longer we can do so? Certainly our elected state officials don't.