Starting in 2016, traveling by air in the United States is going to become more complicated.
In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act as a counter-terrorism measure. Its goal was to set security standards for government-issued IDs.
The Act started to be introduced in late 2013. Now in the last phase of its implementation, its enforcers have decided that some states haven’t complied with its requirements.
As a result, driver’s licenses from those states will no longer suffice to pass through airport security. And that includes domestic flights as well as international ones.
Those states: New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Louisiana and American Samoa.
The reason: Licenses issued by those states don’t contain enough identifying information to pass muster with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).
So how are residents of these states supposed to cope? The Federal Government is advising them to get a passport.
And this, in turn, carries an illogic all its own. As one soon-to-be affected New York traveler outlined:
“To get a passport I’ll first need to get a certified copy of my birth certifcate.
“And to get a copy of my birth certificate I need only to submit a copy of my driver’s license. A copy, no face-to-face, is-that-really you?
“So a New York driver’s license isn’t good enough for flying but it is good enough to get a birth certificate, whch gets me a passport, which allows me to fly.”
Got all that?
Sample state ID card that’s acceptable under the Real ID Act
So much of what passes for security is actually security theater. It doesn’t actually make us safer, but it makes us feel safer.
For example: In the months after 9/11, National Guard troops were stationed in American airports. They certainly looked impressive. But passengers would have felt far less reassured had they known the assault rifles they carried had no bullets.
Or take the checking of photo IDs that has become routine to enter State and Federal office buildings.
What exactly does this tell the security guard?
If you’re John Dillinger or Osama bin Laden, it tells him: “This is a very wanted man.” But if you’re John Q. Public, who’s not notorious as a bank robber or terrorist, showing him your ID tells him nothing.
But people watching this going on assume: “The security guard must know what he’s looking for. So we have to be safer for his checking those IDs.”
In fact, most security guards have little training and even less experience. Many of them don’t carry firearms and lack self-defense skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, security guards earned a median average salary of $24,070 in 2013. The best-paid earned about $43,150, while the lowest-paid made approximately $17,510.
Repeated showings of security theater can be seen every weekday at the San Francisco Federal Building, at 450 Golden Gate Avenue.
To enter, you must show a driver’s license or State ID card.
Then you must remove
- Your belt;
- Your shoes;
- Your watch;
- Your wallet;
- All other objects from your pants pockets;
- Any jacket you’re wearing;
- Any cell phone you’re carrying.
All of these must be placed in one or more large plastic containers, which are run through an x-ray scanner.
Finally, assuming you avoid setting off any alarm system, you’re allowed to enter.
Now, suppose you want to report a crime to the San Francisco field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
You take an elevator to the 13th floor and walk into a large room filled with several comfortable chairs that sit close to the floor. You approach a window such as you find in a bank–made of thick, presumably bulletproof glass.
A secretary on the opposite side greets you, and asks why you’ve come.
You offer your reason for wanting to speak with an agent. Assuming the secretary thinks you have a legitimate reason, she says you must first show her your driver’s license or State ID card.
You slide these through the bottom part of the glass window. Then she makes a xerox of this and hands the card back.
Then, as if that isn’t enough, you have to fill out a single-page form, which requires you to provide your:
- Phone number;
- Social Security Number;
- The reason you want to speak to an agent.
Of course, you can refuse to fill out the form. But then the secretary will refuse to let you meet with an FBI agent.
The FBI has always encouraged Americans to report anything they consider a threat to national security or a violation of Federal law.
But this demand for so much private information is almost certain to sharply decrease the number of people willing to report knowledge of a crime.
At a time when Federal law enforcement agencies need all the cooperation they can get, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.