News & Features

Denied Real ID Extension Could Mean Long Airport Lines

State officials hope Congress will repeal 2005 law, but security advocate says that’s unlikely

Montanans could face long airport security lines starting in 2018 if the state does not comply with federal driver’s license standards.

In November, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security informed Montana officials the state would not get an extension to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005, which requires state identification cards to meet certain security standards. Montana had received two one-year extensions before, but federal officials told Gov. Steve Bullock it would not receive a third because the state had not made progress toward complying with the standards.

Beginning next month, people using Montana driver’s licenses will not be able to access military bases, nuclear power plants and federal facilities. A year after that, in January 2018, Montanans will be unable to board an airplane using a state-issued driver’s license.

If a resident does not have a passport or other acceptable identification, they would have to fill out a Certification of Identity Form at the airport. The form would ask for the traveler’s name and address and then a Transportation Security Administration agent would call the TSA’s Identity Verification Call Center to gather information about the traveler from various commercial and government databases. The TSA agent would then ask the traveler a series of questions in an effort to independently confirm the person’s identity. If the TSA agent could not confirm the person’s identity, the traveler would not be able to board the plane. Real ID proponents believe the independent verification process will lead to longer lines at airport security.

Montana officials on both sides of the aisle have long railed against the Real ID, saying it was an intrusion of people’s privacy and an overreach by the federal government. In 2007, the state Legislature unanimously voted against complying with the federal law. The American Civil Liberties Union has also come out against the law and previously stated it has a “tremendously destructive impact on privacy.”

Critics specifically worry that the Real ID Act opens the door for the federal government to retain information about private citizens in databases.

“I stand by Montanans and their elected leaders in opposition to the implementation of the Real ID Act, which violates states’ rights and jeopardizes the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens in Montana,” Gov. Steve Bullock said after the feds turned down his request for an extension.

But Andrew Meehan, policy director of Keeping IDentities Safe, said Montana politicians are pushing “myths” about the driver’s license standards that are only going to hurt the state in the long run. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Montana is one of only six states that are not complying with the Real ID laws.

“A shrinking number of states are finding fewer and fewer reasons to hold out on complying with Real ID,” Meehan said. “At some point Montana will be caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Meehan believes many of the criticisms about the Real IDs are unfounded and standardized identification cards offer more security and can prevent people from making fake IDs.

“Ten years after this law came to pass none of these myths have come to fruition. There are not black helicopters hovering above,” he said.

Eric Sell, director of communications for the Montana Department of Justice, said the state hopes Congress would repeal the Real ID Act or change the law so that Montana complies with it. Montana Sen. Steve Daines has said he would introduce legislation to repeal the law in the future.

“We feel that our licenses are secure,” Sell said.