Your Illinois license won't be enough to fly
An Illinois driver's license might not be enough identification to get you onto a commercial flight beginning next year.
That's because state-issued driver's licenses don't meet the minimum requirements to comply with a federal security mandate meant to thwart terrorism.
But Secretary of State Jesse White said it will cost millions of dollars for the state to meet the requirements of the 2005 Real ID Act that sets standards for creating and processing state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards.
"Currently, we do not require birth certificates," said White spokesman Henry Haupt. "One factor under the Real ID Act would require us to verify birth certificates through the Electronic Verification of Vital Events system. That part of the program alone we estimate would cost $15 million over a four-year period."
White's office already has been granted two extensions by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The second one runs out in mid-October.
But now, DHS has started enforcing compliance. The new driver's licenses already are needed to gain access to some federal buildings, military installations and nuclear facilities.
As early as 2016, those same restrictions can be applied to commercial air travelers, according to the federal agency's website.
Travelers with noncompliant driver's licenses will be asked for an "acceptable ... second form of ID." Essentially, that means any form of identification issued by the federal government, such as a passport, military ID or "DHS Trusted Traveler Card."
Haupt wouldn't say what still has to be done for Illinois to comply and doesn't have a current figure for what it would cost. In the past, White's office has estimated the total price at $100 million to $150 million, mostly for equipment, staffing and data storage.
The federal government is not offering funding for the project, which DHS estimated in a 2008 report would cost $4 billion nationwide.
Iowa is one of 22 states offering Real ID driver's licenses with stars stamped in the upper right corners to show they're in line with federal requirements.
"Since 2013, we have issued about 100,000 out of the 2.1 million drivers and identification cardholders in the state," said Mark Lowe, director of the motor vehicle division for the Iowa Department of Transportation.
To apply for a Real ID in one of the 22 states that offer the program, a resident must present an array of personal identification documents. In Iowa, an applicant would have to bring an original birth certificate, a Social Security card and a voter registration card as well as a current driver's license.
That information is electronically scanned and stored, and could be shared with other states and the federal government. That irritates some critics.
"It in fact creates a national ID system," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's an incredible overreach by the federal government."
It also means the days of walking out of a driver's services facility with a new license would be over.
In Iowa, cards are processed and manufactured at a centralized location, which is meant to improve security by reducing access to the materials used to make the licenses.
In Illinois, the materials are at numerous driver's services facilities across the state. Haupt said there has been only one incident of apparent theft of some materials "several years ago."
While securing the materials that make IDs is a significant part of the requirements, there is little in the way of guidance from DHS on how to accomplish that. Critics argue that this aspect of the law carries a hefty price tag because of physical upgrades needed at buildings and storage locations.
Officials from DHS declined to comment.
That came as no surprise to the ACLU, which has been fighting implementation of the Real ID Act since it was a late addition to the bill, titled, "Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005."
"They can't prove how this is going to make anyone safer," Yohnka said.
Officials from the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport security nationwide, directed questions about the law to DHS.
Illinois is one of 21 states that have been granted annual extensions. Seven more refuse to follow the federal edict and many of those state legislatures have passed bills ordering their licensing divisions not to comply.
In 2007, Illinois legislators passed a resolution opposing the Real ID Act, saying it "would provide little security benefit and still leave identification systems open to insider fraud, counterfeit documentation and database failures," and urged the state's congressional delegation to push for a repeal.
Haupt said White's office has been working on "enhancing a number of our security features" and hopes to "unveil a new card" in the near future. But whether this new card will meet the federal standards is unknown.
"We are working with the General Assembly and trying to get the necessary funding, but until then Illinois cannot implement," Haupt said.
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