James Gill: Real ID won't fly, but you will with your noncompliant Louisiana driver's license _lowres

The feds are still threatening to stop you boarding an airplane with only a Louisiana driver’s license for ID.

It’s high time they quit trying this bluff. We are not falling for it, and it’s already cost billions.

We are asked to believe that we will not be allowed on any flight unless we can produce a passport, because Louisiana has refused to comply with a law requiring states to issue driver’s licenses with enhanced security features and submit our details to a national database.

We are hardly the only holdout. The Department of Homeland Security lists Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and American Samoa as noncompliant, while several other states that have been granted extensions show every sign of refusing to fall in line too. If you think airports are hell now, imagine the chaos that would result if the feds followed through on their threat. Civil aviation would grind to a halt, and the economy would take a fearful battering.

It is not going to happen because what is known as the Real ID law is clearly a waste of time. It was passed in 2005 as a purportedly urgent response to the terrorist threat. After many delays, it is now officially due to be implemented in 2016. Because nothing untoward has been reported in 11 years while passengers continued to board flashing their driver’s licenses, nobody need be nervous when the feds, as they inevitably will, push back the deadline again.

The Louisiana Legislature did pass a law giving citizens the option of applying for a license meeting the new requirements, but Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed it as an intrusion on state sovereignty and the right to privacy.

The Department of Homeland Security on its website denies that such a national database will be established under Real ID, but because the law requires license information to be made available to all the other states, this is obviously another government whopper.

The information on driver’s licenses not being exactly sensitive, it may be that the fears of government surveillance are somewhat overblown by opponents of Real ID, who range from the tea party to the ACLU. Anyone with a passport already has been put on a national database, after all, and Big Brother has yet to appear.

But Americans are famously incurious about the rest of the world, and passports are not the necessity that driver’s licenses are. And, once a national database had been established, the Department of Homeland Security would no doubt press for additional information to be entered into it. A Real ID driver’s license could be the first step in the decidedly American direction of a national identity card.

That’s the way opponents see it anyway, and, even if they are somewhat overwrought, why take the risk? It would take a strong likelihood of increased national security to justify all the aggravation and expense of implementing Real ID, and it has long been obvious that we can do perfectly well without it.

The idea for Real ID came from the 9/11 Commission, which reported that four of the hijackers used driver’s licenses to board the planes. The law passed by Congress in response required states to take extra steps to verify the identity of applicants, and to issue driver’s licenses that are machine-readable and designed to prevent tampering. Fingers would have to be crossed on that one.

Several states squawked not only because they figured driver’s license security was their business but because this is yet another unfunded mandate. How much it has cost the states is unknown, but the estimate, as long ago as 2006, was $11 billion.

At the time, with fears of terrorism at their height, that may have seemed like a reasonable price to help prevent a repeat of 9/11. And opinion polls at the time showed plenty of Americans willing to sacrifice a little liberty for greater security.

But it is now apparent that Real ID won’t fly. You, however, will need no more than a driver’s license to do so.

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