By: Nicholas Parsons
Nicholas Parsons is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
If you are a permanent resident of Pennsylvania, you have almost certainly heard about Pennsylvania’s upcoming requirement: state-issued IDs and driver’s licenses will no longer be sufficient to board a plane or enter a federal building. Due to its failure to comply with stipulations of the federal REAL ID Act, Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states which will face the maximum punishment for its noncompliance. What you most likely are unaware of, however, is the history behind this requirement, and the reason why Pennsylvania hasn’t complied.
The REAL ID Act was created in 2005, with the primary intent to impose “minimum security standards for license issuance and production”.  The act was created in response to 9/11, and attempts to increase national security through its strengthening of limitations. The law exists in four phases of increasing limitation, the last of which includes the aforementioned inability to pass through airport security and federal facility security. The act specifically requires “the incorporation of specified data, a common machine-readable technology, and certain anti-fraud security features” to be included in a state’s ID.  Since its inception, Pennsylvania has failed to comply, making 2018 the 13th year of noncompliance. This initially sounds rather absurd; however, Pennsylvania is by no means alone. Currently, our state is one of 26 American states and territories which have not kept up with the act’s stipulations, including New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. 
This brings about a salient question: why are so many states failing to comply? The sheer number of non-compliant territories suggests that the answer is more significant than stubbornness or laziness on the states’ behalfs. The answers may instead be found in the language of the law itself. Under the “Driver’s License Agreement”, states must take part in “the interstate compact regarding the sharing of driver’s license data” in order to qualify for financial assistance in manufacturing updated IDs.  If the Driver’s License Compact is unpopular enough in the public perspective for a given state due to its potential interpretation as infringing upon privacy, the state itself would be less likely to follow the other stipulations of the Act. However, as of 2015, only six states do not comply with this specification, and only Massachusetts both does not comply with the Driver’s License Compact and lacks the requisite ID security; thus, this is unlikely to be the true reason behind ID noncompliance. 
Secondly, perhaps it is the case that Pennsylvania lawmakers view this act as a slippery slope, allowing the Department of Homeland Security to increase standards and decrease grants whenever it sees fit. The Act, according to its language, “gives the Secretary [of Homeland Security] all authority to issue regulations, set standards, and issue grants [related to the Act].”  This can be of concern in constituencies that are in general opposition with increased government control, and in states which must rely on grants to comply with standards, who fear it will not be increased when standards are changed.
An alternative reason for noncompliance may be attributed to the loose nature of the act’s restrictions. Although the act deems compliance as a prerequisite for entrance to federal facilities and airports, compliance is considered voluntary. In the words of the Department of Homeland Security, “Participation by states is voluntary, although Federal agencies are prohibited from accepting driver's licenses or identification cards from noncompliant states for official purposes.”  Thus, the relatively weak disincentive from volunteering to comply, combined with the infirmity of the language surrounding compliance itself, may contribute to the high amount of noncompliance of the Act’s standards.
Regardless of the reasoning behind Pennsylvania’s failure to comply with federal standards, it will undoubtedly have a significant impact on state residents. As it stands, if Pennsylvania remains noncompliant prior to their extended deadline of October 10, 2018, residents will be required to offer other valid alternatives. One such substitute, for instance, would be to use a passport in its place. Alternatively, states are allowed to offer a “DHS-designated enhanced driver's license”, even if their state-issued driver’s licenses fail to comply with the standards of the REAL ID Act.  In addition, it is possible that this limitation won’t take full effect until as late as 2020.  So, while state residents still have plenty of time to obtain a valid alternative form of identification, there will come a time when numerous Pennsylvanians will need to make this change if state noncompliance remains in check.
 "REAL ID." Department of Homeland Security. January 25, 2018. https://www.dhs.gov/real-id.
 "H.R.418 - 109th Congress (2005-2006): REAL ID Act of 2005." Congress.gov. February 17, 2005. https://www.congress.gov/bill/109th-congress/house-bill/418.
 “The Driver License Compact.” Traffic Resource Center. October, 2015. http://home.trafficresourcecenter.org/~/media/Microsites/Files/traffic-safety/IssueBrief9TheDriverLicenseCompact.ashx.
 "REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions." Department of Homeland Security. October 02, 2017. https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-frequently-asked-questions.
 "Identification." Transportation Security Administration. February 15, 2018. https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification.
 “REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions.” Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles. PA.gov. http://www.dmv.pa.gov/pages/real-id-frequently-asked-questions.aspx#plane.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Eric Fischer
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