On January 29, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its final rule establishing minimum standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards that federal agencies would accept for official purposes — including air travel and entry into federal facilities on or after May 11, 2008, in accordance with the REAL ID Act of 2005.

Under the REAL ID Act, federal agencies are prohibited — effective May 11, 2008 — from accepting a driver’s license or a state-issued personal identification card for an “official purpose” unless the issuing state is meeting the requirements of the REAL ID Act.

Some of the requirements for the state licenses or ID cards include: federally mandated information and security features that must be incorporated into each card; application information to establish the identity and immigration status of an applicant before a card can be issued; and physical security standards for facilities where driver’s licenses and ID cards are produced.

The most significant impact on the public of this statutory mandate is that, effective May 11, people from states that are not in compliance with DHS’s requirements (actually, Congress’s requirements, which DHS must enforce) will not be able to use their driver’s licenses or ID cards to get through security at airports.

The only exceptions are those states that have requested and obtained extensions of the deadline, subject to certain conditions. Specifically, the only thing that is needed is for the state to promise that by May 11, 2008, it will comply with the requirements or submit a plan for compliance with the requirements. By March 31, 2008, states may request an extension of the time to comply (though the extension may not go beyond December 31, 2009). States determined by DHS to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act (or have an acceptable plan for compliance) have until December 1, 2014, for people born after December 1, 1964, and until December 1, 2017, for those born on or before December 1, 1964, to replace all licenses with REAL ID-compliant cards.

Interestingly, seventeen states have enacted legislation in opposition to, or refusing to comply with, the Real ID Act, and other states are considering similar legislation. The result is that travelers from non-compliant states will likely encounter significant travel delays because they will be required to undergo secondary screening.

Of course, this could also precipitate a constitutional showdown between state and federal governments. Caught in between will be travelers, airports and the airlines.

Greg Principato blogs primarily on aviation and transportation security. His involvement in aviation and transportation infrastructure spans more than thirty years. He previously served as President of Airports Council International – North American from 2005 to 2013, where he oversaw the leading association of airports and airport-related businesses in North America, which enplane nearly all of the domestic and international airline passenger and cargo traffic on the continent. ACI-NA is the largest of the five worldwide regions of Airports Council International. Read More