FAIRBANKS - I’ve heard from a couple of people who said the Division of Motor Vehicles in Fairbanks told them that passports would be required as ID for passengers going through the security gates at the airport starting Jan. 15.
Alaska drivers’ licenses would not be enough, they were told. I thought at first this might have been someone who didn't understand that a passport is required to travel the highway route through Canada.
But there's more to it.
It turns out that an employee at DMV did offer this advice, but has since been told to stop doing so, said Curtis Thayer, deputy commissioner of administration.
It’s not at all clear what the rules will be, however, and the employee who offered the passport suggestion may be right.
It comes down to whether the security measures Alaska uses to regulate the issuance of drivers’ licenses and ID cards are going to meet a minimum federal standard that may or may not be enforced in January.
In 2005, Congress approved the so-called “Real ID” act that created new standards for drivers’ licenses and other forms of ID that would be accepted by the federal government, but the law has not been implemented.
The latest delay, approved in 2011, said the agency would review state compliance with the law by Jan. 15, 2013.
Citing privacy concerns, Alaska lawmakers approved a measure in 2008 prohibiting the state from spending money to implement the Real ID requirements. About a dozen other states have taken similar actions.
The federal requirements came in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, carried out by hijackers with a variety of state-issued driver’s licenses and other ID cards.
So far, the federal government has delayed implementation of the federal act three times, said Thayer, and the state is seeking an answer as to whether another delay is in the offing.
The state has changed its driver’s licenses to improve security in recent years, independently bringing it into compliance with some of the Real ID rules, while not implementing the law, said Thayer.
He said there are “39 benchmark points” in the law and Alaska has complied with 18 and is close to compliance on several more.
For instance, the state says it is working on a plan to include features on ID cards and drivers’ licenses that are not capable of being reproduced using common technologies available to the general public.
On the other hand, the state has not instituted plans to “verify birth certificates” or started taking and saving pictures of everyone who applies for a license or ID card, even if a license or ID card is not issued.
In March, the Department of Homeland Security said that drivers’ licenses in all 50 states are becoming more secure, even in the 13 states with legislation prohibiting Real ID participation.
The agency said it believes that some of the 13 states “already issue secure identification documents consistent with the standards of the regulation.”
It is not clear if Alaska is among those with licenses that are deemed secure.
The deadline for compliance with the Real ID rules is Jan. 15, but the agency said a federal regulation “requires states and territories to submit certification materials at least 90 days prior to the effective date of compliance.”
“A DHS compliance determination means that a state’s or territory’s program meets or exceeds the REAL ID regulatory requirements or has a program comparable to the requirements of the REAL ID regulation,” the department said.
So the questions for Alaska are whether an additional extension is coming and whether the steps taken so far have made Alaska licenses and ID cards secure enough to meet the minimum federal standards.
In any event, Alaskans need an answer soon about whether their licenses will be sufficient for airline travel in 2013.