Unless the federal government grants an extension, South Carolinians hoping to jet off for holidays after January 2018 either should bring a passport to the airport or be prepared for disappointment.
In a letter Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, asked U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to push back a deadline for South Carolina to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005.
That law requires states to make drivers’ licenses more secure from terrorists.
Failure to comply with the law could mean that S.C. drivers’ licenses would no longer be accepted as ID to board a plane or enter a federal base — Columbia’s Fort Jackson or Sumter’s Shaw Air Force Base — or a federal building that has security — the Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia, for instance.
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Congress passed the Real ID Act in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The terrorists who carried out those attacks used driver’s licenses — issued in Florida and Virginia — as identification to board airplanes that they crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and field in Pennsylvania.
The idea behind the law was that secure, modern identification should be consistent across the country, and linked to the data that the individual used to get the driver’s license.
Sanford says South Carolina needs more time to comply with the law, asking the state be given until next Oct. 10. The deadline for South Carolina to comply now is January, but the law generally would go into effect about a year after that date — in January 2018.
“I’ve never been a fan of this national program,” Sanford said Wednesday. “I fought it as a governor. My dream is more towards changing the law rather extension.”
For now, however, Sanford is asking for time. His request focuses on the cost and complexity of getting into compliance with the law.
Initially, estimates were that it would cost states $17 billion to reissue drivers’ licenses and create databases for the estimated 214 million U.S. drivers.
Sanford’s letter says South Carolina and four other states, facing the same deadline, have made significant progress on complying with the law. Another 17 states that face similar problems already have been granted extensions, Sanford says.
The problem is a bit complicated.
The act requires driver’s licenses have “specific security features to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication of the document,” according to a Pentagon statement. “The licenses also must present data in a common, machine-readable format.”
Without those features, the act makes accepting a license illegal for passengers boarding commercial flights or civilian visitors entering a federal facility with at least nominal security.
That, however, is where the problem in South Carolina gets a bit tricky.
Since October 2010, South Carolina has issued driver’s licenses that meet the new federal standard. The problem is the new licenses aren’t hooked into a digital database that also meets the standards.
That makes them illegal to accept.
Sanford said he has heard concerns from defense contractors around the state who worry their civilian IDs won’t be satisfactory to enter a military base or a federal facility that normally requires a picture ID.
While it appears that a S.C. driver’s licenses will not get people into federal facilities after the law goes into effect, workers at military facilities usually have a Department of Defense-issued identification card. These ID cards would be valid.
It would be more of an issue for those who only occasionally work at federal facilities, such as Fort Jackson or Shaw. Without a Defense Department card, these workers would need a passport for entry.
As Sanford said, “Most people don’t have passports.”