By H. Amos Goodall, Jr., CELA*
In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID act, establishing standards for identification documents for certain purposes. Since most folks will use driver’s licenses to establish their identity, by October 20, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present identification documents which comply with the REAL ID Act in order to obtain a “REAL ID compliant” driver’s license or identification card. For driving purposes in Pennsylvania, a REAL ID license is not required.
Under the Act, REAL ID cards are required for accessing nuclear power plants or federal facilities not open to the general public, and boarding commercial aircraft. There are probably very few readers of this article who need to access nuclear power plants who do not already have appropriate documentation, and the same is true for sections of federal facilities not open to the general public. Nevertheless, after October 20, 2020 in order to board a commercial aircraft, using a state-issued driver’s license, it will be necessary that the license meet REAL ID standards.
State issued driver’s licenses are only one form of establishing identification. There are many other forms of identification acceptable to TSA. Other forms include passports, passport cards, homeland security trusted traveler cards, foreign government issued passports, permanent resident cards, and a number of other proofs of identification (not weapons permits or temporary drivers licenses however), In fact, there is a procedure for someone without any valid identification to be allowed to fly, at the discretion of TSA officers, although the public is admonished to allow extra time for members who expect to need this procedure. Moreover, children under 18 when traveling with a companion are not required to produce any identification. Clearly a driver’s license that complies with the REAL ID is the quickest way to get on an airplane.
Is this some federal identification program? The answer is no. This program does not contemplate any federal record keeping. It simply imposes on states the requirement to follow certain identification procedures before issuing their driver’s licenses. There are specific security requirements for the states’ databases.
Currently, driver’s licenses issued in all, but twelve states comply with REAL ID requirements, Pennsylvania is one of the noncompliant states which have been given an extension. Pennsylvania has recently instituted an optional procedure to issue REAL ID-compliant licenses at an additional fee. Pennsylvania will continue to issue licenses for applicants who chose to meet traditional requirements, with REAL ID-compliant cards available as an extra cost option.
However, the state determines whether or not to issue the driver’s licenses and what records are to be kept. These do not go into any sort of national data base according to the Department of Homeland Security, and in fact, under the law, safeguards are required for the information obtained by the state.
There are several requirements for Pennsylvania REAL ID-compliant licenses. An applicant is required to prove (a) Identity, (b) Social Security Number, and (c) Pennsylvania residence.
To establish identity, an applicant who is a U.S. citizen must present at least one of the following source documents: a United States birth certificate with a raised seal, a valid U.S. Passport or Passport Card, Certificate of U.S. Citizenship or Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Certificate of Naturalization. A lawful permanent resident must present a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card), Passport with I-551 stamp, a Machine-readable Immigrant Visa, or a Re-entry Permit.
To meet the Social Security requirement, an applicant must present an original Social Security card. Persons who have lost or mislaid their card, may obtain a replacement through the local Social Security office.
Applicants will need to provide TWO documents to prove Pennsylvania residency. Acceptable documents are a current, unexpired PA driver’s license or photo ID card, a PA vehicle registration card, an Auto insurance card, a computer-generated utility bill showing your name and address (cell phone, cable, electric, gas), post-marked mail/package labels through USPS, UPS, FedEx etc., W-2 form/pay stub, lease agreements or mortgage documents.
There are other requirements in case of a change in legal name, date of birth and/or gender designation.
To summarize, the REAL ID system does not, by itself, create a national database. There is no requirement that anyone participate, and for those who need to use the system, there are other options available, like passports.
It is important to note that REAL ID requirements do not apply to a number of situations of particular importance to older persons include applying for or receiving federal benefits, including Veterans benefits, Social Security benefits, SSI, hospitals and ambulance services, riding Amtrak, entering post offices, the public areas of the Smithsonian, and other federal facilities that do not require identification. It is not necessary to have a REAL ID card to enter these facilities or to apply for or receive federal benefits. Pennsylvanians will not need REAL ID licenses to drive or to vote.
*Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation.