Ask Juneau: When will Alaska have a Real ID compliant license?


JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - For the final Ask Juneau question before we leave and the Legislative session ends, we turn to a viewer from Chenega Bay, Valerie Tompkins, who wants to know, "What is Alaska doing to become compliant with the federal Real ID law?"

Alaskans seem to have a love-hate relationship with that law – or maybe it’s a hate-tolerate relationship.

On the one hand, Alaskans have said bad things about Real ID, with some believing it’s another “Big Brother” effort by the feds to put personal information on each of us into some giant database or to create a national identification card. And to what end? To know who to round up? That’s the thinking, anyway.

On the other hand, the feds have the access points to airplanes, military bases and nuclear plants, and they presumably have an inherent right to keep those facilities safe. A Real ID is supposed to be a secure, inalterable identification card that guarantees that the person on the license is the same person displaying it – and that’s it’s not a “fakey” used by a spy, a terrorist, an undocumented immigrant or a minor who wants to buy alcohol.

Real ID is supposed to be a new, improved form of identification – it could be a state drivers license, it could be a state ID. In a telephone interview from her office in Anchorage, Marla Thompson, the head of Alaska’s Department of Motor Vehicles and the official charged with bringing in the new IDs, said no information on the new identification will be sent to the feds.

“We’re not sending your data to D.C. – no,” she said.

But an opponent of Real ID, Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, says the damage to privacy has already been done.

“In January of 2017, the Department of Administration sent off 660,000 data points on Alaskans,” Tuck said. "They gave the last five Social Security numbers of all Alaskans and if you know the last five, you can add the first three – which is going to be 574 – then you have a 1-in-10 chance of figuring out what that middle number is. They gave our date of births, and they gave our names and information, so they’ve already given that information up.”

Under a bill signed into law last year, an Alaska driver can choose whether to get a Real ID compliant license, or just keep using the old one.

In transmitting bills to the Legislature last year in support of the Real ID law, Gov. Bill Walker said Alaska will continue to issue both kinds of licenses. Other states, like California, are doing the same thing.

Walker noted that the Real ID act is designed to “prevent terrorists from obtaining state driver licenses and identification cards.” The law creates national standards and mandates what source documents states can use to verify a person's identity, Walker said, but it does not “usurp State authority to issue licenses or identification cards.”

In any event, the state won’t have Real ID until January, Thompson said. A temporary waiver of the license requirement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security expires in October, but Thompson says she’s confident that it will be extended another year, giving Alaska enough time to comply with the law. Thompson said she doesn’t expect the state will be able to replace all licenses in January, even if people seek them.

Until the extension is over, Alaskans can use their old non-compliant IDs to travel or to enter secure federal facilities. Regardless of extensions, that free pass will end in 2020, according to the DMV.

“Starting October 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a Real ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel,” the DMV says.

But Tuck says that’s not really the case.

“You notice that now, in the Anchorage airport or any of our airports here in Alaska, they used to have a sign even before the Real ID Act passed, that you won’t be able to fly unless you do this, and do that. Those signs are all gone,” Tuck said. A traveler may be hassled by security without the proper ID, but can they be kept from a flight? Tuck says, "No."

The Real ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005. More than half the states have compliant identification. The national law remains controversial, though it has so far survived a several repeal attempts.

[MAP: See state and territory compliance with the REAL ID Act]

Tuck said he’d like to see it gone – here and everywhere.

“We should at least consider it, because it’s a lot of personal information that gets shared and without very much control,” he said.

The Alaska compliant drivers license has not been fully designed yet, Thompson said. But it will be similar to licenses now. She also suggested looking at other states for samples.

“We are in the process of redesigning our cards, and working all of the systems that will make this work,” she said. “Everybody’s cards will start to look a little bit different. And if you have a real ID, they’ll have the yellow star.”

To get an Alaska Real ID starting in January, a driver will need additional identification – like a passport. Although, there’s no plan to require renewing or replacement license holders to take a new driving test. The DMV is establishing a data line to the federal passport office to allow it to check whether a passport is valid, Thompson said.

In the meantime, Thompson said that an expiring license can be renewed on the DMV website. A Real ID license will require a visit to the DMV – at least the first time, with the proper identification. And it will cost an additional $20, meaning the price will be doubled from the standard license renewal fee as it is today.

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