Federal government confirms Illinois is moving toward compliance with REAL ID Act

Compliance, or movement toward compliance, is required for a state ID card (such as a driver’s license) to be seen as adequate identification for federal security purposes, such as entering an armed forces base or the boarding area of an airport. Illinois is one of 14 states that have been officially ruled as out of compliance with the 2005 federal law. Congress enacted, and former President George W. Bush signed, the REAL ID Act after the events of September 11.

Under the terms of the federal law, applicants for a drivers’ license or official ID equivalent are required to present a variety of official documentation to confirm and re-confirm their legal status within the United States. In addition, the drivers’ licenses or equivalent state documentation must be produced in physically secure facilities and must comply with a series of federal mandates intended to reduce and eliminate counterfeiting. The eventual goal is to bring the 50 states’ drivers’ licenses closer to the level of identification and security that are imposed upon applicants for a U.S. passport. After a ten-year transition period, the federal government has begun to impose penalties upon the residents of states that remain out of compliance with the REAL ID Act.

The General Assembly responded to federal compliance issues in spring 2016 by enacting new legislation (SB 637) intended to move toward compliance with the REAL ID Act. Under this legislation, the offices of the Illinois Secretary of State are no longer allowed to print out and distribute plastic drivers’ license cards. Starting in summer 2016, Secretary of State employees who have undergone criminal background checks are now allowed to collect information from an Illinois resident. The State employee will then send digital information over a secure phone line to a facility in a secure location. The new drivers’ licenses, which are mailed to their recipients, are similar to the old drivers’ licenses in some ways and different from them in others. They contain features that are difficult to counterfeit.

Under the new legislation and technology, Illinois has now been re-ruled to be 84% in compliance with the REAL ID Act. This status will be valid until October 10, 2017. During the 12-month period preceding this deadline, Illinois drivers’ licenses and ID-card equivalents will be viewed as adequate to enter federal security-secured areas, such as federal facilities and airport boarding areas. The Department of Homeland Security is warning Illinois and 13 other states that they must take further actions in spring 2017 in order to move closer toward complete compliance with the REAL ID Act. Eight other states, including Kentucky and Missouri, have been ruled noncompliant with the REAL ID Act. Their residents could face identification-related sanctions as soon as January 30, 2017.