James Gill: Real ID no real threat

There’s been a lot of confusion over whether you’ll still be able to board a plane by showing your driver’s license.

It all depends on whether Louisiana complies with a federal law called Real ID. Luckily, Stephen F. Campbell, commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles, is here to set our minds at rest.

Louisiana “will satisfy the Real ID,” he told the Advocate last week, “with the exception of the legislative ban on Real ID.” Apart from that teeny caveat, it’s all systems go.

An act of 2008 forbade OMV to implement Real ID, and, just in case there was any doubt, a similar one was passed in 2010. An attempt to bring Louisiana into compliance was rejected by the Senate this year. This might have created the impression that legislators do not like Real ID, but Campbell remains upbeat and expects they will “modify that ban.”

His confidence may not be widely shared in Louisiana and beyond. About half the states have balked at what they regard as an Orwellian intrusion.

The Real ID Act was passed in 2005 in response to 9/11. It decreed that driver’s licenses would no longer be enough to get citizens onto a plane, or allow them to “access federal facilities,” unless the states beefed up security. The act, which was supposed to take effect in 2008, requires that applicants for driver’s licenses submit to “mandatory facial image capture.” It also demands “images” of personal documentation that “can be retained in electronic storage in a transferable format.”

This is tantamount to that most unAmerican instrument, a national identity card, legislators in various states complained, and hands were duly wrung over the emasculation of the 10th Amendment.

This was, however, hardly a novel invasion of privacy, being already required for the issuance of passports and other forms of federal ID. Indeed, the Real ID Act provides that a passport will get you through airport security if your driver’s license doesn’t pass muster. But if you don’t already have a passport, you’ll chafe at having to get one just to fly to Atlanta. They cost much more than driver’s licenses.

We await the first meeting of a taskforce that will figure out what Louisiana should do about Real ID. It was set up in response to an ambush carried out by proponents of compliance in the last session.

A Senate committee considering a bill of strictly limited applicability — it provided that Situs Inversus Totalis be stamped on the driver’s license of anyone suffering from that disorder — up and amended it to require that OMV fall in line with Real ID. The full Senate put the kibosh on that, however, and the ban remains on the books. Not only is compliance verboten, but OMV is ordered to tell the governor if any feds come sneaking round to foist the stricter requirements upon us.

Robert Adley, R-Benton, chairman of the committee that amended the bill and a member of the new task force, is among those who think the time has come to knuckle under. “When we left the session, the State Police were telling us we would have to pass something,” he said. “It’s serious, in my view, where our people will have to use passports to fly because we didn’t do something about Real ID.”

But it is highly unlikely to happen soon, because the Department of Homeland Security seems to have no choice but to grant noncompliant states yet another delay. Real ID was originally supposed to take effect in 2008, but the date kept getting pushed back as state after state refused to play ball. If the law really does kick in as advertised, a mere three months hence, countless millions will be grounded. The economic impact could be catastrophic.

That might be fair enough if flying were made safer, but we can’t be sure that it would be. In all the years Real ID has been on hold, there have been no reports of terrorist attacks it might have prevented.

Still, C.B. Forgotston, king of the subversive bloggers, has been warning for months that we might soon need passports to fly, and it was evidently in response to him that Campbell last week declared, “Louisiana is in no jeopardy, no jeopardy.” Perhaps he said it twice in case of confusion.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.