Imagine arriving at your local airport one morning for a domestic flight to a neighboring city. You approach the security checkpoint and the TSA lackey asks for your identification. After handing him your driver’s license, you prepare to be groped as you pass through the checkpoint.
But instead, the TSA man tells you your driver’s license is no longer accepted as identification for domestic flights. He asks you for your passport.
Unfortunately, you don’t have a passport. A few months ago, you received a letter from the State Department stating that since you owed the IRS money, your passport was hereby revoked, effective immediately. It further ordered you to turn your passport in.
You’re officially grounded – courtesy of the IRS.
How could this happen? Thank Congress for enacting a pair of obscure laws, one in 2005 and another in 2015.
#1 The Real ID Act of 2005 established federally mandated “national uniform standards” for driver’s licenses… 43 separate requirements in all. State driver’s licenses that fail to conform to these standards are no longer valid for any federal “official purpose.” Examples of “official purposes” include boarding an airplane, buying a firearm, or even entering a federal courthouse.
Originally, the deadline for states to comply with the law was December 31, 2009. But the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly extended it. However, after October 1, 2020, you won’t be able to use a noncompliant driver’s license to identify yourself for any federal “official purpose,” including boarding an airplane. And 26 states have yet to comply with the new requirements.
#2 H.R. 22, the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act) passed Congress last December. It added a little-noticed section to the Internal Revenue Code entitled, “Revocation or Denial of Passport in Case of Certain Tax Delinquencies.” This section empowers the State Department to “deny, revoke, or limit the passport of individuals” with a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” This is defined as a tax debt that exceeds $50,000 for which the IRS has filed a notice of lien or levy. The act doesn’t solely apply to just criminal tax cases either; any tax debt over this threshold could trigger passport revocation.
The State Department hasn’t yet issued regulations on how it will interpret this legislation. It seems obvious that when you apply for or renew a passport, your application will be denied. But the State Department could also confiscate existing passports of delinquent taxpayers.
It’s incredibly easy to ring up a $50,000 tax debt, especially if you include interest and penalties. (The FAST Act doesn’t specify if they’re included, but I’d be very surprised if they’re not.) On two occasions, I’ve received notices from the IRS demanding more than $50,000 in tax and penalties. Fortunately, I resolved both of them for payments far under that amount, but the point is this provision could potentially affect millions of US taxpayers.
What’s supremely ironic is neither the Real ID initiative nor the passport revocation measure will achieve their respective purpose.
Supporters of the Real ID initiative claim the law merely establishes commonsense standards to ensure identity documents can’t be counterfeited or falsified. That, in turn, they say, will reduce terrorism, illegal immigration, and a host of other social ills.
Don’t believe a word of it. Making sure someone is who they claim to be doesn’t prove they won’t commit a terrorist act. And most people who commit terrorist acts have no previously known links to terrorism. The perpetrators of the December 2, 2015, massacre in San Bernardino, where 14 people died, weren’t part of any terrorist cell or network. Most of the 9/11 hijackers had no previous known links to terrorism. And neither did Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh.
Then there’s the matter of whether Real IDs will actually be, well, real. Proponents say the high-tech identity documents produced under the initiative will be tamperproof and nearly impossible to counterfeit.
But this claim is a bald-faced lie. We need look no farther than the newest generation of US passports – those equipped with a supposedly tamperproof radio frequency ID (RFID) chip similar to the one inserted into all Real ID compliant driver’s licenses. Hackers have shown it’s almost child’s play to clone an RFID passport. Is it too much to imagine that clever hackers will similarly find a way to hack Real IDs?
But the most threatening aspect of the Real ID initiative is its creation of the equivalent of a national database to include details on 250 million licensed drivers. Each state must provide electronic access to the information contained in its motor vehicle database to all other states.
An interlinked system is a far greater security risk than a decentralized one, with each state issuing ID cards according to its own rules. That’s because if hackers manage to penetrate it, they’ll have access to identity documents in all 50 states, not just one. And not just driver’s licenses: The Real ID law requires that states store digital copies of the identification documents you present to qualify for your driver’s license. Hackers will be able to copy your birth certificate, your passport (if the State Department hasn’t confiscated it), your Social Security card, and any other document you submitted to get your “secure” driver’s license.
But what about the passport revocation measure? Won’t that lead to greatly increased tax compliance?
The answer is no, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. It estimates this measure will raise a measly $398 million in tax revenues over the next decade. That’s enough to pay for about 0.1% – one tenth of one percent – of estimated highway expenditures during that period.
In other words, these laws have nothing to do with fighting terrorism or raising revenue. They have a lot more to do with showing US citizens “who’s the boss.” And the boss is not you.
Laws like the Real ID Act and the FAST Act make it more important than ever to get a second passport. If you don’t qualify for a second passport by virtue of marriage or ancestry, it’s still possible to acquire one by making a contribution or investment to a handful of countries. In exchange, you’ll receive citizenship for life and a passport. The Commonwealth of Dominica’s second-citizenship program is the most affordable of these offerings, although there are at least six others. Incidentally, The Nestmann Group is the only official government-approved agent for the Dominica passport in the US.
It only makes sense to obtain a second passport, “just in case.”