Intell law boosts Real ID
TSA enforces rules for air travelers to carry secure credentials
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Jun 06, 2008
States that have invested in technology to comply with the contentious Real ID Act got a helpful, if unexpected, affirmation from the federal government May 26 when a Homeland Security Department agency issued long-delayed regulations that require the use of secure driver's licenses or other secure biometric credentials to board domestic flights.
The technological impact of the new rules, enforced by the Transportation Security Administration, is to render moot many of the objections to Real ID credential security requirements.
The newly imposed requirements represent a somewhat unexpected end-run around the most controversial requirements of the Real ID law, which mandates the use of secure biometric credentials that provide proof of legal presence in the country and authorization to drive a car. People with legal presence can also obtain Real ID non-driver's identification cards.
Legal presence is a recently developed term used to cover all individuals who are in the country legally. People who hold one of the dozens of types of visas issued by the federal government qualify for the legal presence designation.
Most people boarding airplanes use their driver's licenses for identification.
All U.S.-issued driver's licenses now comply with Real ID requirements, largely because DHS issued waivers to states that had not complied. The Real ID Act's effect will be felt during the next several years, as states, DHS, the State Department and dozens of motor vehicle departments upgrade their security to meet its requirements.
For example, the law requires drivers to be authorized by secure biometric credentials and, for the first time, imposes national standards for the privacy and security of motor vehicle department computer systems. Hardening DMV systems against hacking or exploitation from within could defend against a range of opportunities for criminals to obtain apparently valid credentials.
The new TSA requirements mandate that travelers present compliant documents or face the prospect of interrogation and search in a process similar to the secondary inspection methods used on suspicious people who arrive from other countries. TSA chose to mesh the requirements imposed May 26 with those of Real ID to simplify compliance.
The regulations resulted from the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires DHS to propose minimum standards for identification documents required for domestic flights.
The May 26 regulations reflected Real ID requirements that had been scheduled to go into effect May 11. DHS had granted waivers to states that had not met the May 11 deadline. Several did not comply because of outright opposition to Real ID.Invisible features
TSA's announcement also puts into play a range of credential-reading devices that Customs and Border Protection, another DHS agency, has purchased and installed at airport checkpoints (GCN.com/1103).
The DHS officials have received training on how to use the equipment to inspect security features that can't be seen by the naked eye. That inspection technology likely will evolve as the security features embedded in the credentials become more sophisticated.
The new TSA rules, however, lack a critical phase of the Real ID regulations ' a pointer system that allows state officials to determine where an individual's driving record is kept. They also lack a requirement that individuals prove legal presence to obtain a Real ID credential.
The enabling technologies for the pointer system and database infrastructure for the legal presence reviews haven't been completed.
That network eventually will link DMVs with federal databases that assure a noncitizen's legal presence in the country.