Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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Posted By Cliff Tuttle | July 27, 2019

No. 1,636

We obtained real ID’s this month. PennDOT says that they are “optional” but one day, sooner than you think, they are going to be mandatory. Unless you have a passport, they are or will be required in all states for domestic air travel. Also, as a lawyer, I’ll need them to enter any federal building or military base. I visited ICE last week and proudly presented my brand new Real ID.

The PA Real ID’s are almost identical to a standard driver’s license, except that they have a white star inside a gold circle in the upper right hand corner. In case there is any opportunity for confusion, the regular PA license states: “NOT FOR REAL ID PURPOSES.”

Yes, it is a hassle to put together the required evidence. If you lost your Social Security Card, you must order a new one. They helped you lose the last one by warning you not to place it in your wallet. You can’t order it on line, even if you are currently drawing benefits. You must go to the SSA office, take a number and wait. It will arrive in the mail in seven to ten days.

In the case of a married woman who didn’t retain her surname, she must also get a certified copy of her marriage certificate. Discrimination against women — particularly married women? A small price to pay for a safe flight, right?

But the price may not be as small as you think. If you watch carefully during the processing, you can observe the documents you just submitted are being copied before the clerk returns them to you. That means that PennDOT has a file on you that includes, in addition to current information, a copy of your birth certificate. The marriage license application also contains information regarding your parents and your spouses’ parents. And don’t forget, your photo is on the license and in their database.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the State Police, FBI and ICE have routine access to these records without a warrant or your consent. Your photograph is available for download into a facial recognition database. Even though you have never been convicted, or even charged, law enforcement has a pretty good starter file on you, available for the taking at the speed of the internet.

But that’s only the beginning. They probably have, or can quickly get, your fingerprints. They can, if they wish, look at your credit report with a few keystrokes. And there is probably a gold mine of other information available on social media.

There is no point in fretting over what has already happened. Moreover, I am told that the only people who care these days about loss of personal privacy are oldsters and illegal aliens. Those who grew up in the information age have accepted it as inevitable. Perhaps. But there are still a few remnants of our private lives known only to ourselves. It is worth reflecting upon ways we can keep these few remaining nuggets out of our government’s database.

Is it still necessary in 2019 for a federal employee to manually look up the PennDOT file and download it? If so, we all know that the technology exists for a machine to access it, when needed, without human intervention. And if it can be done, it will. Perhaps ICE was already checking my Real ID identity information against their list of illegals. I’ll never know unless/until they clap on the cuffs. (Mistakes happen all the time. A US Senator has the same name as someone on the no-fly list.)

Moreover, security guards and police are not the only ones who may ask you to produce identification. Think of all the civilians who regularly want to examine your license. These range from the merchant who accepts your personal check to the closing officer who refinances your home. How long to you think it will take before all of them will demand a Real Id? My guess, one year.

The time is coming –if it hasn’t already — when a guard at the Federal Building will have the dossier on me during the twenty seconds it takes to walk through the magnetic sensor. A computer will review it, of course, since humans can’t read that fast. A silent alarm then will go off and I will be politely asked to step out of line. I will not protest that I will be late for court. That would only make the situation worse.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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