Alaska News

With Real ID Act looming, no changes for Alaska travelers -- yet

As elements of the Real ID Act go into effect, including provisions that would prevent people from air travel or entering federal facilities, nothing will change for Alaskans -- at least at first.

Alaska isn't compliant with the Real ID Act -- a federal law that changes requirements for identification cards like driver's licenses. The 2005 law is planned to take effect in stages and could potentially bar people from flying if they don't have Real ID-compliant identification. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to release more information on how they'll implement that requirement sometime soon.

While the law is designed to strengthen national security, some states have pushed back against it, citing privacy concerns. Only about half of all states are fully compliant with the federal law.

Regardless of what the Department of Homeland Security decides, Alaska IDs are still acceptable for air travel, according to Alaska state officials.

Alaska received a Real ID Act extension earlier this month. That extension -- good through October 2016 -- means nothing will change for Alaskans looking to get into federal facilities or for commercial air travel, according to Leslie Ridle, deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Administration.

"So basically it's status quo. We're good. What works today still works," she said in an interview Monday.

Ridle said she and Department of Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher met with officials at the Department of Homeland Security in May. She said those officials assured them that they would offer "ample time" to make sure Alaskans would know if their IDs would be unsuitable for air travel.


Ridle said the department plans to apply for another extension once the current one expires. Recently, several states have not been offered extensions and Ridle said it's possible that Alaska could at some point be denied an extension.

Alaska law currently prohibits any state spending on implementing the Real ID Act. However, she said some best-practice measures have been made at the Department of Motor Vehicles that happen to be Real ID compliant, like making sure IDs are difficult to counterfeit. But other things -- like marking ID cards with homeland security markings or submitting the IDs to homeland security -- cannot be done because of the prohibition against spending state funds on Real ID.

Ridle said the Department of Administration would likely write a letter to the Legislature this session explaining the extension and possible scenarios for Alaskans if extensions aren't granted.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said Tuesday that he still stands behind the 2008 legislation he sponsored that prevented state spending toward adhering with Real ID. The bill passed with broad support across party lines in both the Senate and House.

"It's just federal overreach -- which we always talk about here in Alaska -- and we took a stand against it," he said of the Real ID act. "Hopefully the other states that have taken a stance against it will join together and we'll be able to stop it."

Wielechowski said he'll work with state and federal officials to figure out if some sort of compromise could be made, but is concerned about the impact of the act on states' rights and Alaskans' privacy. He hopes the Legislature will hold a hearing on the issue next year.

He said the federal government threatening to ban travel for those without Real ID-compliant identification seems "preposterous."

"When you think about it … You're hopping on an airline and you're going through security and your bags are going through security and you're an Alaska resident and you've been an Alaska resident your entire life," he said. "What more do they really need?"

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.