Photo courtesy Wikimedia and Creative Commons.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia and Creative Commons.

PA’s REAL ID: 2019 and Beyond

The REAL ID Act is coming to Pennsylvania in 2019, what does that mean?


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The new deadline proposed by the federal government for Pennsylvania to comply with the REAL ID law has been extended to July 10.

Pennsylvania is one of 21 other states to have been issued the grace period, while 25 states and the District of Columbia are compliant with the REAL ID Act. Only four states have refused to comply with the REAL ID law.

The one-month extension gives Pennsylvania more time to issue its residents' identification cards that comply with the federal government standards, though the law wouldn’t be in full effect until 2019.

Touted as an anti-terrorism law, the legislation requires that PA residents either get the national ID or use their PA ID with federal passports for travel on planes and access to federal buildings.

Until last month, Pennsylvania was operating under a 2012 law that prohibited the state’s licensing office, PennDot, from issuing the federally mandated ID’s and only working with the Pennsylvania ID cards.
At the beginning of the year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave state officials six months to repeal the law, a deadline that the state only partially succeeded in meeting.

On May 26, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill into law that repealed the state's 2012 prohibition law, then PennDOT sought a deadline extension. The state is now in talks with Homeland Security to ensure the new state law complies with federal standards.

Under Pennsylvania’s SB 133, no Pennsylvania resident will be required to get a REAL ID-compliant driver license or identification card even after the state’s federal licensing capabilities are in full effect.

The new law gives residents the option to obtain a driver's license or other ID that meets the rules of Real ID, 0r they could use a passport to do those things. Residents with no plans to fly or visit a government facility have the option of getting a noncompliant, traditional driver's license or ID.

The Pennsylvania Government Department of Motor Vehicles website states “PennDOT anticipates the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will continue to issue extensions to Pennsylvania until REAL ID products are available for residents.”

But as the extensions are issued, the Department of Homeland Security has to determine whether the PennDot ID specifications are compliant.

”The plan now that the governor has signed legislation authorizing PennDot to move forward is to develop a REAL ID compliant driver’s license and identification card. But those details have not yet been worked out. We’re in the process,” said Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for PennDot at the Harrisburg facility.

System, building infrastructure and process changes will be necessary for Pennsylvania to issue REAL ID-compliant products. Work will begin immediately and PennDOT estimates REAL ID compliant driver licenses and identification cards will be available by March 2019. This will allow ample time for customers who want a REAL ID product to get one before the final DHS effective date of October 1, 2020.

Many of the details of the system have not been set in stone, says Kirkpatrick.

And while many aspects of the law are still up in the air, the actual implications once the laws are set in place seem a little bit grimmer according to Jim Harper, Vice President of Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and author of an analysis of the 2005 REAL ID Act.

According to Harper, two potential flaws of the REAL ID Act are being overlooked for the sake of compliance: security and state privacy.

An aspect of the REAL ID Act is not only the national ID systems that can be accessed by other states on a nationwide basis but also federal access to state ID databases. When asked about whether there was a separation between the state and federal ID systems, Harper stated he saw no difference and highlighted the aspect of the act that required states to allow Homeland Security to access their systems.

““The terms of the law make no distinction between ids. They state that you have to open your driver database so my belief is that DHS will be back for all the data.,” says Harper, “Getting a non-compliant ID doesn’t mean Pennsylvania will protect your data.”

In addition to federal access of the state systems, regardless of what ID you have, a national database could lead to the insecurity of vital information and be vulnerable to risks such as hacking.

“The state identification databases have been hacked here in the U.S. If there is a national ID database, if people hack into the [state databases] the right way and REAL ID were fully implemented, they could access the entire national identification data infrastructure.” says Harper.

And, according to Harper, the future of the ID’s can lead to an eventual master system that combines REAL ID data with E-Verify, a system used to verify an employee's ability to work legally in the United States.

Pennsylvania’s compliance is still in negotiation as it is one of the states to have been issued the one month grace period.



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