Is my 'real ID' a REAL ID?

The United States government is tightening security by providing a higher level of identification validation.  This isn't new — the REAL ID Act passed in 2005 — but it's taking effect next year.  It was passed in an effort are to make it more difficult to counterfeit peoples' identity and personal information using their identification cards (IDs) like state driver's licenses.  The problem is, how much good will it do if people who need to update their IDs to this higher security format don't know they need to do so?

The U.S. Travel Association reports that 57 percent of people are not even aware of the upcoming deadline scheduled for October 1, 2020.  That said, 72 percent of people are not prepared for the transition, and 39 percent are not in possession of any compliant form of ID.

Why are people not digesting the urgency of this situation?

On October 1, 2020, all federal buildings and airport security checkpoints will require a REAL ID for entry and access.  Meaning, if people don't have one by the deadline, the result will be thousands of people each day being denied access through airport security checkpoints, accompanied by a plethora of negative consequences to all stakeholders (airlines, passengers, TSA).  Moreover, state departments of motor vehicles will be overwhelmed with desperate travelers seeking a compliant ID for their upcoming trip.  Whether all such requests can be absorbed prior to the November/December holiday travel period is questionable.

Is there still time to avert this impending tsunami?  The answer is yes, but it will take decisive action by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to inform people that their current ID may not be a compliant ID, and that it has an October 1, 2020 expiration date.

One problem is the name. The opposite of a real ID is a fake ID, which people's current driver's license cannot be.  So when they are asked if they have a REAL ID, what they hear is, "my ID isn't fake." A better name, like an Enhanced ID, which already exists and is used for another compliant document for U.S. citizens, or a Secure ID, would have eliminated the confusion that the current name elicits.  Asking if a person has an enhanced or secure ID naturally raises the question: what is an enhanced or secure ID?  That is something that a REAL ID does not do.

Another challenge is that the REAL ID Act is a federal mandate implemented by state agencies.  This creates a natural disconnect that exacerbates its implementation.  Given that most people renew their driver's license every four or more years, driver's licenses draw little attention for most people until the ID must be renewed.  The October 1, 2020 deadline will not provoke states to issue reminders when a current driver's license is not due to expire, given the cost of such a campaign.  Moreover, states are prepared to accept noncompliant IDs after the deadline, further exacerbating the situation.

What can be done to encourage more people to obtain a compliant ID before the October 1, 2020 deadline?

The most common use of IDs is at banking institutions to perform financial transactions.  If the DHS partners with major banking institutions, working with them to create a phased in period to require compliant IDs prior to the deadline, this will educate and motivate people as to its urgency, and facilitate a timelier conversion.

Sheldon Jacobson, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is chairman of the INFORMS National Science Foundation Liaison Committee.

The United States government is tightening security by providing a higher level of identification validation.  This isn't new — the REAL ID Act passed in 2005 — but it's taking effect next year.  It was passed in an effort are to make it more difficult to counterfeit peoples' identity and personal information using their identification cards (IDs) like state driver's licenses.  The problem is, how much good will it do if people who need to update their IDs to this higher security format don't know they need to do so?

The U.S. Travel Association reports that 57 percent of people are not even aware of the upcoming deadline scheduled for October 1, 2020.  That said, 72 percent of people are not prepared for the transition, and 39 percent are not in possession of any compliant form of ID.

Why are people not digesting the urgency of this situation?

On October 1, 2020, all federal buildings and airport security checkpoints will require a REAL ID for entry and access.  Meaning, if people don't have one by the deadline, the result will be thousands of people each day being denied access through airport security checkpoints, accompanied by a plethora of negative consequences to all stakeholders (airlines, passengers, TSA).  Moreover, state departments of motor vehicles will be overwhelmed with desperate travelers seeking a compliant ID for their upcoming trip.  Whether all such requests can be absorbed prior to the November/December holiday travel period is questionable.

Is there still time to avert this impending tsunami?  The answer is yes, but it will take decisive action by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to inform people that their current ID may not be a compliant ID, and that it has an October 1, 2020 expiration date.

One problem is the name. The opposite of a real ID is a fake ID, which people's current driver's license cannot be.  So when they are asked if they have a REAL ID, what they hear is, "my ID isn't fake." A better name, like an Enhanced ID, which already exists and is used for another compliant document for U.S. citizens, or a Secure ID, would have eliminated the confusion that the current name elicits.  Asking if a person has an enhanced or secure ID naturally raises the question: what is an enhanced or secure ID?  That is something that a REAL ID does not do.

Another challenge is that the REAL ID Act is a federal mandate implemented by state agencies.  This creates a natural disconnect that exacerbates its implementation.  Given that most people renew their driver's license every four or more years, driver's licenses draw little attention for most people until the ID must be renewed.  The October 1, 2020 deadline will not provoke states to issue reminders when a current driver's license is not due to expire, given the cost of such a campaign.  Moreover, states are prepared to accept noncompliant IDs after the deadline, further exacerbating the situation.

What can be done to encourage more people to obtain a compliant ID before the October 1, 2020 deadline?

The most common use of IDs is at banking institutions to perform financial transactions.  If the DHS partners with major banking institutions, working with them to create a phased in period to require compliant IDs prior to the deadline, this will educate and motivate people as to its urgency, and facilitate a timelier conversion.

Sheldon Jacobson, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is chairman of the INFORMS National Science Foundation Liaison Committee.