You may soon need a passport to fly domestically... and the IRS can take it away

If you thought it was a pain in the backside to get through the TSA screening process and make it to your plane before, prepare for things to get a bit more restrictive, expensive and – in some cases – practically impossible. As we discussed here last year, the Real ID Act is in place, though remaining mostly dormant for the moment. But when the reprieve expires over the next couple of years, travelers in states where your drivers license or other state issued identification isn’t up to snuff will need a passport to get on a plane. And in a separate, but very much relevant development, the IRS will be able to invalidate your passport in some cases if you fall behind on your taxes. In other words, some of you may wind up grounded. (Forbes)

In October 2020, the hassle factor for domestic air travel may increase. Soon, your state’s driver’s license may not be enough to get you through security and on board. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reports that 26 states–including California–do not meet federal regulations. There is an extension of time for these states, through Oct. 10, 2016. But after that, there is worry that your U.S. passport may be needed.

Now, there is a reprieve until January 22, 2018. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has issued a statement that, until then, residents of all states can continue to use their state driver’s license for domestic air travel. But by Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a Real-ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of federal ID for domestic travel. The Real ID Act created a national standard for state-issued IDs. Some states initially refused to comply, fearing that the federal government would make a national database of citizens.

If you’re in a state which has a compliant ID you don’t have any more to worry about than usual, but even for those of you with a passport, as I mentioned above, the Tax Man may be able to cancel it.

[T]he rise of the passport’s importance coincides uncannily with a new law giving the IRS power to revoke passports. Plainly, the easy answer to travel worries may be to dig out your passport, and they are already often in evidence in domestic air check in lines. But what if your passport is cancelled because you owe the IRS?

I’m not advocating anyone not paying the taxes they owe under the law, but let’s remember that some people wind up in disputes over audits which can drag on for years and run up huge bills, both in terms of legal or accounting costs and fines or fees from the IRS. If you are in the middle of one of those battles and don’t have a Real ID compliant license, you may be grounded. May is the operative word because DHS has dragged their feet on this for a while now and may do so again. Jim Harper from CATO at Liberty opined last year that this will never come to pass, but that’s hardly a unanimous opinion around the nation.

Let’s assume they do start enforcing it, though. This is a troubling development on a couple of fronts. First of all there’s the issue of freedom of movement. No, you don’t have some constitutional right to get on a plane, but it’s a reality of 21st century life for many people, both for employment requirements and social interaction with widely dispersed friends and family. Pretty much anyone can get an identification card for free these days (thanks, voter ID laws!) but a passport is going to take some time to get and will cost you real cash. People who frequently move, lacking the proper supporting documentation or who have run into some trouble with the law may not be able to get a passport at all. Having the government ground them is unreasonable. And the idea that the IRS can ground you over a tax dispute is particularly self-defeating because they may remove your ability to pay your tax bill in the process.

None of these questions touch on the question of a National ID system which sets the teeth of many conservatives on edge.

So do you have any alternative options? Well… sort of. One option in most states is to go get an Enhanced Drivers License. They generally won’t cost you as much as a passport and don’t have terribly stringent requirements if you have a reasonably clean record. Also, the IRS can’t take them away. You can use them not only for domestic flights, but to drive over the border into Canada at most crossing stations.

These are just some things to keep an eye on over the next couple of years. If you’re not sure whether or not your state’s drivers licenses are Real ID compliant, you can take a look here.


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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022