Last week, Governor Baker filed a bill with the state legislature that would bring Massachusetts driver's licenses and identification cards into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005.

There has been much misinformation about both REAL ID and what the Governor's bill means for the Commonwealth. Here are some important facts.

What is REAL ID?

REAL ID is a law signed by President Bush in 2005 that creates national standards for driver's licenses and identification cards. If fully implemented, the federal government will no longer accept driver's licenses that don't comply with REAL ID for some federal purposes—such as boarding airplanes and entering certain federal buildings.

What's wrong with REAL ID?

REAL ID would turn our state driver's licenses and ID cards into a national identity card, cost billions of dollars to implement, and place new burdens on applicants—all while doing nothing to protect us against terrorism.

  • Cost: Massachusetts will need to upgrade systems to comply with the REAL ID requirements, create new procedures for verifying and accepting identification documents from applicants, and retrain RMV staff. The federal government has estimated that it would cost the states $3.9 billion and individuals $5.8 billion to fully implement REAL ID. This is money that could be spent on schools, housing, fixing our ailing public transit system, major infrastructure repairs, and other things that Massachusetts urgently needs.
  • Burden: For individuals applying for licenses and ID cards, it will likely mean longer lines at the RMV, higher fees, and complications showing the necessary documentation.
  • Privacy and Security Concerns: REAL ID creates a single, national, interlinked database—a one-stop shop for identity thieves, and an easy way to track people. Recent examples of major data breaches demonstrate that large databases can be cracked and millions of records can be put at risk. And a national ID card would make it easier for the government to follow our movements. As the REAL ID card's uses increase, every time it's scanned, it will create a record, quickly uploaded to a federal database that is accessible to an unknown list of public and private agencies.

REAL ID doesn't make us any safer

There is no proof that more burdensome and stringent identification requirements prevent terrorism. That is because ID documents do not—and cannot—reveal anything about a person's intent. Even where a person is known to be a threat, determined terrorists will always be able to obtain fraudulent documents (either counterfeit or real documents bought from corrupt officials).

You don't need a REAL ID to board an airplane

It is important to note that not having a REAL ID-compliant license does not mean you can't board an airplane—it means you have to show another acceptable form of ID in order to fly. According to the government's website, TSA (the agency that checks your ID at the airport) “currently accepts other forms of identity documents such as a passport or Permanent Residency Card and will continue to do so." The same goes for entering federal buildings.

Massachusetts does not need to comply with REAL ID

The federal government granted Massachusetts an extension on compliance, and a REAL ID-compliant license is not currently being required at airports or many federal facilities.

Residents of the Commonwealth should oppose Gov. Baker's bill and fight any efforts to make the state comply with REAL ID.


Laura Rótolo is Staff Counsel and Community Advocate at the ACLU of Massachusetts.