Commentary: Celebrate freedom this holiday season by flying without REAL ID

REAL ID is an overreach of the federal government’s powers. The slow adoption is due to state legislators’ concerns regarding privacy, cost, and autonomy.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety

The American Airlines app is the first of many places throughout the travel process that asks if you are “REAL ID ready.”

If you have traveled recently, you’ve seen dozens of “REAL ID ready” signs scattered throughout the TSA security line or rotating on overhead displays and heard it announced over loudspeakers.

Despite these ongoing announcements, very little information is provided about what REAL ID is and even less on the immense risk it poses to personal privacy and autonomy. But the good news is you can resist this federal identification and tracking document by refusing a REAL ID when you renew your state ID or driver’s license.

REAL ID is an overreach of the federal government’s powers. The 2005 REAL ID Act allowed the federal government to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” However, in the 17 years since the REAL ID Act became law, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that only “half of all the states have already met the REAL ID minimum standards.”

This slow adoption is due to state legislators’ concerns regarding privacy, cost, and autonomy. The original federal deadline for implementing REAL ID has been extended several times after states initially refused compliance, and due to significant criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

The ACLU of New York underscores the REAL ID threat to privacy: “It consolidates Americans’ personal information into a network of interlinking databases accessible to the federal government and bureaucrats throughout the 50 states and U.S. territories. This national mega-database would invite government snooping and be a goldmine for identity thieves.”

The debate has been going on for years. In 2007, James Carafano from The Heritage Foundation testified before Congress stating, “We should not institute anything like a universal national identity card. Such a program would be unnecessary, extraordinarily expensive, and inefficient. A national ID card would provide little real additional security and would be found, rightfully, troubling to most Americans.”

Furthermore, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, implementing REAL ID is estimated to cost states “more than $11 billion over five years.”

Yet the federal government continues to push Americans toward REAL ID by claiming a person will no longer be able to fly without a REAL ID. This baseless threat — DHS admits you can use your passport and 14 other IDs — caused all states to become REAL ID compliant. Most states offer citizens the option of a REAL ID, standard “not for federal purposes” ID, or driver’s license; however, a few have mandated REAL ID.

The threat of REAL ID goes beyond the consolidation of personal information into a government database. The federal identification card will eventually limit American freedom and liberty. The ACLU of New York states, “The private sector will also begin mandating a REAL ID card for everyday purposes.” The mandated use of REAL ID will likely extend beyond boarding a plane. In the future, it could be required to open a bank account, buy a gun, receive health care, apply for a job, and vote.

The current federal REAL ID deadline is May 3, 2023. However, if Americans refuse to relinquish their standard state license (or switch from a REAL ID to a standard license), the deadline will likely be extended again.

State legislators are strongly encouraged to protect the citizens of their state and end this usurpation of states’ rights by repealing laws that comply with REAL ID. Under our Constitution, no citizen should be forced to lose their privacy rights or their ability to operate freely in America.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not represent an official position of Alpha News. 


Natasha Chernyavsky

Natasha Chernyavsky is a legislative and policy specialist for Citizens' Council for Health Freedom.