TSA balks on REAL ID. Again.


Every couple years we get bombarded with panicked travel advice about how the TSA is soon going to make certain states’ drivers licenses invalid for travel. The states choose to not comply with the REAL ID act and the TSA says that’s the only way to ensure that the person presenting the ID is actually traveling. Putting aside the part where who the passenger is matters far less than what they’re carrying, something the TSA is pretty bad about consistently and successfully checking, there’s also the part where the insistence on REAL ID is stupid. Mostly because of the column inches (and bytes) wasted on these stories year after year. And so we get to the December 2017 version of the idiotic game of legislative “chicken” where, once again, the TSA chooses to yield.

The TSA has lots of marketing collateral suggesting REAL ID matters. Turns out it really doesn't.
The TSA has lots of marketing collateral suggesting REAL ID matters. Turns out it really doesn’t.

Nine states are still non-compliant with the REAL ID Act more than a decade after it took effect. For residents of Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington the risk is that their state-issued ID will no longer be acceptable for entry to various federally regulated facilities, from court houses to airports.



The signage at airports and press push from the TSA not withstanding, the organization announced today it would postpone its implementation of that rule. Again. This time the new deadline is October 2020.

Perhaps most amusing to me is not that the story keeps getting told but that people believe the TSA is serious when it comes to such enforcement. Yes, there are other options for many od the affected travelers. They can use a passport or even take the extra time to be processed as a passenger without valid ID, something that is completely possible. But 18 months ago I suggested to a colleague that there was no way the rule change would actually take effect in January 2018. Seems that prediction came true.

Read More: US GAO says TSA BDO program is BS

Some of the affected states are moving towards REAL ID compliance. Massachusetts is supposed to be working in that direction and Missouri passed legislation that allows residents to choose if their ID card is REAL ID compliant (with the extra data collection/sharing) or not. And eventually they’ll probably all get there. Or maybe they won’t.



But the incessant threats that the TSA will block people from traveling are silly, overblown hype. Also, completely untrue. But don’t worry: I’m sure we’ll be back here again in early 2020 having the same discussion all over again.

On the plus side, the TSA Blog continues to remind us that more travelers than ever are bringing guns to the checkpoints. Alas, those passengers are rarely cited or prosecuted for those “mistakes” so there’s really little motivation to not screw it up.

Read More: In the case of the TSA v Arabic Flash Cards

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

One Comment

  1. But of course!

    There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to slide off reality for January. I didn’t know whether would be the TSA that would back off, or that Congress would get all wild the first few days back from Christmas in the face of a government shutdown / debt default and spend its time amending the REALID instead. Or whether the Trumpster would try an executive order, or one of his cabinet people issue some “interpretation.” But like you, I knew this wasn’t going to happen in January.

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