Federal ID system set to arrive in Iowa

New driver's licenses stem from Congressional passage of the Real ID Act in 2005

An example of the new REAL ID cards that will be implemented in Iowa in January 2013.
An example of the new REAL ID cards that will be implemented in Iowa in January 2013.

A new federal identification card system rebuffed by half of the states has passed the final step to implementation in Iowa on Jan. 15, leaving Iowans with the option of two different driver’s license types.

The new REAL ID driver’s licenses and non-motorist identification cards will be required for new driver’s license applicants in Iowa, including newcomers moving in from out of state. Rules enacting the REAL ID system were approved Tuesday by the Iowa Transportation Commission.

The existing “non-REAL ID” driver’s licenses won’t be going away, however, so Iowans who have them must decide whether to apply for the new cards in hopes of avoiding additional security delays at airports and federal facilities.

The new rules stem from Congressional passage of the Real ID Act in 2005, at the recommendation of a commission studying lessons from the 9/11 attacks.

Legislators in many states called the requirements unconstitutional, portraying REAL ID as a kind of Orwellian government effort to track citizens.

American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Executive Director Ben Stone said he’d assumed the REAL ID issue had been put to rest in Iowa after suffering defeats in so many other states. He was surprised and disappointed when told of the rule adoption by The Gazette.

Stone said he cannot imagine why the state went to the great effort and expense of implementing REAL ID when the federal government had largely given up on the idea of implementing the legislation as originally enacted.


“We’re chagrined that this has been adopted,” Stone said, adding that the civil liberties union will try to see that constitutional rights and individual liberties are protected in implementation.

Iowa recently completed a major security overhaul of its driver’s license system. The cards used in REAL ID won’t add security features to the card itself, being almost identical in appearance except for a circle with a star cutout in the upper right-hand corner.

A big part of REAL ID’s value, according to Mark Lowe, director of the DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division, will be in verifying the authenticity of the documents and the accuracy of the information used by applicants. Iowa will be able to interact with federal databases to verify that federal documents submitted by applicants are authentic.

Stone said some of the requirements will be extremely unwieldy, however, such as a requirement for a certified and government-issued birth certificate, and a requirement that the REAL ID contain the applicant’s full birth name.

“A hospital-issued certificate is not acceptable,” Stone said. “This is certainly going to be a difficult situation for many people who will have to find a certified birth certificate.”

Stone also was concerned about a requirement that temporary foreign nationals have the words “limited term” imprinted on the face of the card. The language on driver’s licenses could become a “scarlet letter” and subject foreign nationals to discrimination or bad treatment, he said.

Lowe, of the DOT, said the birth certificate requirement is essentially unchanged from current regulations, and Iowans already are required to have their full legal names on their licenses. He said the new rules are more stringent in requiring documents to support name changes since birth, and that could affect women more than men because women have more name changes.

The DOT is sensitive to implications of the “limited term” language, Lowe said, however, the longest license term for a temporary foreign national whose lawful stay has no expiration date will be one year, rather than the current maximum of two years.


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Lowe was aware many other states have rejected REAL ID but said Iowa’s General Assembly and governor directed the DOT to comply with it on the belief that it will improve the security of Iowans.

“This is not a national identification card,” Lowe said, indicating there will no longer be universal participation or a massive central database of all citizens.

Two key implementation dates will govern the use of REAL ID unless they change.

Those born after Dec. 1, 1964 will be required on Dec. 1, 2014 to be issued a driver’s license or identification card that complies with all of the REAL ID requirements if the document is to be used for official federal purposes such as security screening at airports.

On Dec. 1, 2017, the same expectations will be applied to others in security screenings.

Lowe said it’s hard for the DOT to advise Iowans of the consequences of not having a REAL ID at this point.

“We believe they will not be denied access to the airplanes or the facility they want to visit. They may be subject to additional screening, but they have not said what that additional screening will be at this point. We do not believe it will be too intrusive at this point.”

Obtaining the REAL ID cards won’t cost any more than obtaining a regular Iowa state driver’s license or identification card to those opting for them at the end of their regular renewal cycles, and they will be issued for $1 as duplicates for those in the middle of a renewal cycle.

Lowe said the DOT will publicize the new documentation requirements for REAL ID, in order to minimize the need for repeat trips to motor vehicle branches to obtain licenses. 



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