People in America's heartland are about to see some changes to the process of getting a driver's license, and those changes are causing controversy all over America.
On Jan. 15, Iowa will begin implementing the REAL ID Act, which the U.S. Congress passed in 2005 partly to combat terrorism in the wake of 9/11. REAL ID licenses and state identification cards will look very similar to what people currently have, but they will have a star in the upper-right hand corner that indicates to federal officials such as TSA workers that your identity has been verified.
"The purpose of the REAL ID Act is to reduce the likelihood of presenting false identification documents to gain access to terrorist rich targets, like airlines, federal buildings, or nuclear power plants," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV.
In order to obtain a REAL ID license or state identification card, an applicant must provide several forms of documentation, including:
- Birth certificate
- Social Security number
- Proof of residence and lawful presence in the U.S.
Although Congress passed the REAL ID program in 2005, the implementation of the full program has been delayed several times due to state opposition. While some states, such as North Carolina and Georgia, have supported the program, many states are opposed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 25 states have passed resolutions rejecting REAL ID and it is illegal to comply with the law in 15 states.
The ACLU's web page on the REAL ID Act rejects the new card as a "national identity card," and claims the card will have several negative impacts, including:
- Costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars to implement
- Creating longer lines at driver's license bureaus
- Increasing identity theft
- Allowing the government to routinely track people
Other states have taken issue with the feasibility of providing the required documentation in the wake of a natural disaster. Those documents could be difficult for someone to provide after going through a hurricane or a tornado. Some opponents say even a typo on a birth certificate could make it difficult to obtain a REAL ID card.
However, supporters of the program point out that the required documentation does not differ from what most states require to obtain a driver's license. For example, Iowa has long required a birth certificate to obtain a license.
The future of the REAL ID program is clearly in doubt. Some critics say that it violates the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which leaves certain powers to the states. As of now, the program is set to begin on Jan. 15, though, unlike Iowa, many states will not be participating. (In Iowa, participation will be optional at first.) Even if the program is fully implemented across America, the earliest you could be required to have a REAL ID card is December 2014. By that time, it is possible that you will need a REAL ID card to board an airplane or enter a federal government building.