Thanks to the government, you may soon not be able to use your driver's license to fly domestically. But don't panic: We can all get through this together. So let us break down the rather complicated REAL ID Act for you.
What on earth is the REAL ID Act?
Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to streamline security standards for sources of identification such as driver's licenses. Because states and other jurisdictions have already made "significant progress in complying," about 90% of U.S. drivers already hold licenses from places that are either determined to comply with the standards or have received extensions, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Will everyone be affected?
Nope. If you live in the 24 states not listed below, you can go on your merry way. Your state is already compliant with the government's standards. (You can check out this detailed breakdown of each state's current status.)
Which states are currently not compliant with the act?
Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, and Montana. If you're a resident of one of these four states, you'll need alternate identification to fly within the U.S. starting January 2018.
Travel + Leisure has reported on how far these states are on the road to becoming compliant: Maine hopes to start issuing compliant IDs during the summer of 2018. Missouri passed legislation to issue new IDs this week, but it's unclear when it will start issuing the compliant licenses. Montana lets residents get compliant IDs for an additional $25 when their current licenses have expired. Minnesota hasn't passed any legislation so far.
Which states are getting extensions in order to comply with the act?
Eight states — Alaska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington — will have until June 6, 2017 to comply.
Thirteen more states — California, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Texas — have through October 10, 2017 to comply.
Some of these states already have legislation for compliancy on the books; others do not. Check your local news for updates. But the bottom line is, if your state is either compliant or has received an extension (i.e. not Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, or Montana), you have until October 2020 to replace your current license.
So does this mean I'm going to need a passport to fly if my state doesn't comply?
However: "Effective January 22, 2018, if you have a driver’s license or identification card issued by a state that does not meet the requirements of the REAL ID Act, unless that state has been granted an extension, you must present an alternative form of identification acceptable to TSA in order to board a commercial domestic flight." If you don't have a passport, here's how to apply for one.
Is the DHS trying to build a national database with all of our information so the government can spy on me?
We're not sure about that one, but publicly the agency claims that this is a national set of standards rather than a national ID. "Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who gets access to those records and under what circumstances. The purpose of REAL ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure."