My – and your – worst nightmare has come true:
What the hell is REAL ID?
Background: My husband and I each watch/read/listen to about two hours of news every day.
This takes place in the mornings and evenings, so I think we’re reasonably well-informed about current events.
Yet when a mailer arrived from the California DMV last summer, it was the first time either of us had heard about:
We’d neither seen, read nor heard anything about REAL ID.
Yet the REAL ID Act, I’ve since learned, has been around since 2005.
And so has the confusion surrounding REAL ID.
Which should be no surprise, considering it involves – and requires the cooperation of – the federal government, all 50 state governments, and worse – infinitely worse – all 50 states’ DMVs:
Can you imagine a more ineffectual combination?
I started doing some online research and there’s plenty of information out there, much of it baffling. Here are just a few of those sources: the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), TSA (Transportation Security Administration), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), guidelines from all 50 DMVs, all sorts of media offering their interpretations of what we need to do, and plenty of websites that are opposed to REAL ID, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.org), the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom (CCHFreedom.org), and my personal favorite, RealNightmare.org.
What I couldn’t find was one website with one simple set of guidelines that were
- Easy to Understand
What was clear – and here’s the nightmare part – is that to obtain a REAL ID, you have to go to the DMV.
Because there and only there can you obtain one of these: a REAL ID driver license or ID card:
|Forgers will appreciate all the details shown in the new compliant REAL ID (left) and non-compliant driver licenses.|
Now, I’ve had major surgery, and I’ve been to the DMV, and given a choice, I’d far rather have that major surgery again.
The surgery didn’t involve standing in endless lines outside, then endless lines inside, then dealing with a surly clerk who treats me like scum, and paying – paying – to do all this.
That’s right: I may not want a REAL ID, I may not need a REAL ID – I hadn’t been able to ascertain that yet – but if I’m going to get a REAL ID, I’ll have to pay for it:
Lines at the DMV were already horrible, and now, thanks to REAL ID and the confusion that surrounds it, the lines are much worse:
Talk about worse! Now lawmakers are involved, yikes!
In desperation, I decided to call my DMV.
Pure, total desperation.
I had what I thought was one, easy question:
If I have a passport, do I need a REAL ID to board an airplane?
The DMV recording said there was a wait “due to high call volumes,” of course. Trust me, plenty of those callers were looking for information about REAL ID, due to all the misinformation out there.
If I wanted a callback from a “technician,” the wait was 60 to 90 minutes. To the DMV’s credit, I did get a callback in exactly 58 minutes.
That’s the first and last time I’ll give the DMV credit for anything.
I spoke slowly and clearly. I was, after all, dealing with the DMV.
“I’m calling to clarify: As of October 1, 2020, will I need a REAL ID to board an airplane, if I also have a passport?”
She was certain. Unhesitating. Unequivocal.
“Well,” I said. “I received a mailer from the DMV about REAL ID and I want to read to you what is says:
‘You will need a REAL ID, passport or other federally accepted document at airport security beginning October 1, 2020.’”
I continued, “It doesn’t say ‘and,’ it says ‘or.’ So to me, that means I’ll need a REAL ID or a passport or other federally accepted document.”
Then I said, “I also found an infographic on the DMV website and here’s what is says:
Do you have a valid passport, military or ID or other TSA approved document?” If “yes” then, “You don’t need a REAL ID driver license or ID card.”
There was a pause, then she said something about REAL ID being a “new program” and they didn’t know much about it.
Excuse me? The REAL ID Act of 2005 is not exactly a “new program.”
And folks, if the damn DMV doesn’t “know much about it,” how are we supposed to?
The technician wandered around the DMV website for awhile, occasionally reading aloud some of the useless information I’d already seen, then she moved over to the TSA website, or maybe it was DHS website, and more reading aloud, until she stumbled across something, read it and said, “OK, if you have a passport you don’t need a REAL ID to fly.”
Again, she was certain. Unhesitating. Unequivocal.
Just like before.
To clarify, I said, “So I think what you’re saying is, as of October 1, 2020, if I have a passport, I do not need a REAL ID?”
The she said, “Of course the rules could change between now and then.”
Well of course they could! Because there’s no f***ing way the federal government, all 50 state governments, and all 50 states’ DMVs could come up with a set of guidelines that are
- Easy to Understand
And then make the guidelines permanent.
I wanted to shout, “No, no, no! No changes between now and then, now and forever, never, ever!”
But I didn’t. I thanked her and we hung up.
And I’m still not sure what the answer is.
Here’s the one thing I’m sure of:
On October 1, 2020, there’s going to be chaos at airports. Do I need a REAL ID or not? Is my old driver license from a state that’s compliant with DHS standards or not? Did my state get an extension or not? Can I use my passport and old license or not?
The airlines will tell us to talk to the TSA, the TSA will talk to each other, nobody will know what the hell is going on, and lots of people will miss lots of flights and…
February 2019 update: Here are my maybe-final last words on the California DMV and REAL ID: