Subcommittee Chairman Gimenez Delivers Opening Statement in Hearing on Real ID Act
December 5, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security Chairman Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) delivered the following opening statement in a hearing to examine the status and challenges around the implementation of the REAL ID Act. The hearing also explores potential digital solutions and improvements for identity management and digital security enhancement for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Watch the full hearing here.
As prepared for delivery:
American identity management is fundamentally fractured. The REAL ID Act of 2005 was passed in response to September 11th. The goal of the Act was to address the fact that the hijackers were able to fraudulently obtain state drivers’ licenses and thereby enable their heinous act of terrorism. Congress decided that there needed to be security standards for states when it came to identity documents.
Eighteen years later, approximately 52 percent of the American population possesses a driver’s license that is REAL ID-compliant. Only four states require REAL ID, which leaves 46 states and 5 American territories that provide non REAL ID’s as an option.
The problem comes to a head on May 7, 2025. On this date, if you do not have a REAL ID, you will not be able to fly in the U.S., unless you happen to have a Passport, Global Entry card, or some sort of other government issued ID that is approved for air travel. Suffice to say, on May 7, 2025, we are going to encounter utter mayhem at our airports.
Since 2005, the Department of Homeland Security has awarded over $263 million in grant funding to assist in enhancements to driver’s licenses.
While this money has enabled individual States to update their processes, the REAL ID efforts have come in behind schedule and over budget. While all states are now offering REAL ID compliant licenses, there is more work to be done to raise awareness and REAL ID adoption.
Yesterday, I had the chance to meet with our Transportation Security Administration, which is now overseeing REAL ID efforts given DHS Headquarters’ mismanagement of this important initiative since the beginning.
In 2020, TSA took over REAL ID management and Congress passed the REAL ID Modernization Act, providing streamlined and innovative enhancements to REAL ID requirements. Since then, the work has expanded and become more efficient.
Furthermore, the TSA’s identity management team has sought to look beyond physical identity documents and engage the digital realm—bringing together experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, technology companies, and banks to conceptualize the future of digital identity in the United States.
I applaud these efforts but am concerned that this is a bigger effort than just one agency in one department – it requires a whole-of-government approach and leadership from the highest levels.
Sadly, every American knows somebody or has themselves, been a victim of identity theft. This year alone, the Identity Theft Resource Center recorded more than 2,800 data breach notices which included over 273 million individuals. Total financial losses for Americans was over 10 billion dollars.
The average cost for a US driver’s license on the black market is between 150 and 200 dollars. The average cost of a social security number is worth only a few pennies. In other words, social security numbers are easy to forge and not a very secure way to identify yourself. There’s also a darker side to identity theft.
The Identity Theft Resource Center reports that 16 percent of identity crime victims contemplated suicide the past year due to the impact of their stolen identity. Simply put: this issue is about more than simply getting a driver’s license.
I firmly believe our current identity management challenges are solvable and provide us with an opportunity. However, it will require hard work. We will need to fix the current problem by devaluing the stolen identity data of Americans that is already out in the open so that criminals cannot so easily leverage American identities for nefarious purposes.
And we must take a hard look at how we can protect future American identities by providing new ways to prove that you are—in fact—who you say you are, such as new mobile driver’s license that are a digital counterpart to plastic ID cards and that can be used not only in person but also online.
When it comes to the future of identity, Americans are rightly skeptical and concerned about privacy and civil liberties—especially the collection of biometric data. This is why in today’s hearing we will draw the important distinction between biometric verification versus biometric recognition. As usual, the private sector has had solutions to identity management for decades. Though, because government is the only authoritative issuer of identity, there are limitations on what industry alone can deliver.
We have with us today a panel of experts in the industry that have been involved in this discussion since the beginning of these discussions.
The American people deserve a robust discussion about the timeline of events and how it is that we landed here—18 years after the passage of the REAL ID Act—with even greater challenges than we had before. I look forward to the discussion and the solutions that are offered.