The facts about REAL ID compliance and Washington state

October 30, 2015

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently informed Washington state of their decision to deny our request for a compliance extension for REAL ID requirements. This means starting as early as January 2016, standard Washington state driver licenses and ID cards may no longer be accepted as a standalone identity document at some secure federal facilities. This does not affect commercial airline travel at this point. The Department of Licensing has issued Enhanced Driver Licenses and Enhanced ID Cards since 2008. These will continue to be federally acceptable documents and can be obtained by Washington residents who are U.S. citizens.

Even under REAL ID, most services provided by the federal government do not require identification to be presented, and that will not change. Washington residents who do not have a federally compliant document will still have access to federal courts, Social Security offices, national parks, and, at this time, boarding flights at commercial airports.

At some point in the future, Washington residents who do not have a federally compliant document will need to use an approved second form of ID with their standard Washington driver license/ID card for boarding domestic commercial airline flights. DHS has indicated that they will announce “the timing and nature” of enforcement for commercial airlines in December, 2015 and that the date will be at least four months from that time. They have provided no further information to states.

It is important to remember that this change will not have significant impacts on typical Washington residents at this time. Most residents don’t regularly visit the secured areas of federal facilities. Washingtonians are encouraged to investigate all of their options for obtaining a federally compliant document like a U.S. Passport/Passport Card, state Enhanced Driver License/ID card, or other ID documents (see below) that will be acceptable by federal agencies to enter secure federal facilities. This includes nuclear power plants, military facilities and other facilities that require ID to enter.

  • Washington is among 24 states that have been operating with a REAL ID compliance extension because our regular driver licenses and ID cards do not meet all 41 different REAL ID requirements. DHS denied our state’s request for another compliance extension which makes our state subject to the REAL ID enforcement schedule. This means our regular driver licenses and ID cards may no longer be accepted at certain secure federal facilities and nuclear power plants – the Department of Homeland Security has not announced a specific date for enforcement to begin at commercial airports.
  • State law currently prohibits the expenditure of state funds to comply with the REAL ID Act. See RCW 46.20.191 and 43.41.390.
  • The Department of Homeland Security compliance schedule indicates REAL ID requirements may be enforced at commercial airports any time after December 31, 2015. However, the exact date remains unknown and at whatever point they announce the date, there will be at least 4-months between the announcement and the date the commercial airport requirements will take effect. DHS has been unclear about specific dates.
  • Since 2008, Washington state has issued Enhanced Driver Licenses and Enhanced ID Cards that federal officials have certified for use as proof of identity for federal purposes. These documents can be used for any purpose a REAL ID compliant license can be used for and have the additional benefit of being an acceptable form of identification at U.S. land and sea border crossing stations in the Western Hemisphere. They are available to U.S. citizens.
  • Over the past several years, DOL has met many of the REAL ID requirements (21 out of 42) just by adopting national best practices for driver license and ID card security—things we would have done regardless of the REAL ID Act. In addition, we will meet several more of the REAL ID requirements once we move to a new driver license and ID card central issuance system in 2017. Many of the REAL ID requirements will be costly for the state to comply with.
  • Additional forms of identification acceptable for federal purposes include:
    • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
    • U.S. military ID (active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DoD civilians)
    • Permanent resident card
    • Border crossing card
    • Airline or airport-issued ID (if issued under a TSA-approved security plan)
    • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
    • HSPD-12 PIV card
    • Foreign government-issued passport
    • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
    • Transportation worker identification credential

DOL expands use of facial recognition system to fight fraud

June 7, 2012
DOL image

DOL image

The Department of Licensing (DOL) is starting to use a facial recognition matching system as part of our ongoing efforts to prevent individuals from obtaining multiple driver licenses or ID cards or attempting to obtain a license or ID in the name of another Washington resident. DOL is committed to doing everything we can to protect the identities of Washington residents.

DOL has used facial recognition as part of the Enhanced Driver License program since 2008 and in our regular driver license and ID card processes during the pilot program from November 2009 through June 2011.

How does facial recognition system work?
Using your regular driver license or ID card photo, the system uses sophisticated mathematics to create a digital template of facial features that aren’t easy to alter, such as eye sockets, cheekbones and sides of the mouth.

Before a new license is issued, the system compares the template it creates to with all of the templates already in our database to determine if someone is attempting to apply for a license using a name other than their own. When potential conflicts are detected, the system flags them for review by specially trained DOL staff.

DOL’s facial recognition system is designed to be an accurate, non-obtrusive fraud detection tool. When staff investigators confirm an individual may have more than one identity in our system, DOL offers the individual an opportunity to explain. A hearing is offered before any administrative action to suspend or cancel a license or ID card is taken.

Facial recognition templates are not shared
We do not share the use of the system with law enforcement or the other agencies without a court order and do not release facial recognition system results. However, when our efforts find probable fraud or identity theft we inform appropriate partner agencies who can investigate for identity-based crime or entitlement fraud.

Recent KING 5 report about DOL facial recognition program contained a false statement

January 24, 2012

Individuals who fraudulently obtain Washington state driver licenses and ID cards present a serious risk to the safety and economic health of our residents and businesses. To fight this type of illegal activity, DOL has been working with the State Legislature for several years to obtain the authority to use a proven, non-invasive facial recognition system already in use for our Enhanced Driver License program to monitor regular driver license and ID card transactions for potential fraud.

In a story broadcast during the 11 p.m. newscast on January 23, 2012, KING 5 stated that DOL operated facial recognition software for regular driver license and ID card transactions without legal authority. This is a false statement. DOL was fully authorized to operate this system as a pilot program by our state’s 2009-2011 transportation budget. This budget, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor on May 13, 2009, contained this provision:

“(7) The department may seek federal funds to implement a driver’s license and identicard biometric matching system pilot program to verify the identity of applicants for, and holders of, drivers’ licenses and identicards. If funds are received, the department shall report any benefits or problems identified during the course of the pilot program to the transportation committees of the legislature upon the completion of the program.”

The pilot program ended when the 2009-2011 transportation budget expired. We are now working with the Legislature to make the use of this technology a permanent part of our processes.

DOL appreciates KING 5’s efforts to keep the public informed about the use of our facial recognition system, but it is important for the public to understand that DOL has not used this system in any way that was not fully authorized by law.

The use of facial recognition in our Enhanced Driver License program and in our regular driver license and ID card processes during the pilot program from November 2009 through June 2011 has demonstrated a need to have this system in place to make sure DOL is doing everything possible to protect public safety and the personal identity information of our state’s residents.

The use of facial recognition in our Enhanced Driver License program and our pilot program has identified three primary reasons individuals fraudulently obtain multiple driver licenses or ID cards. These are:

• To continue driving after a driver license suspension or revocation

• To purchase or consume alcohol as a minor

• To engage in criminal activities including identity theft

In 2011, the use of facial recognition by our agency resulted in 571 driver license suspensions and the cancellation of 560 fraudulent records and the associated cards. We also are working our way through 3,800 more cases of fraud identified by the facial recognition system during the pilot program.

Our facial recognition system also has allowed us to identify cases where individuals were maintaining multiple identities to fraudulently collect benefits through state entitlement programs.

Even after Olympics, strong demand continues for Enhanced Driver License

March 8, 2010

By Tony Sermonti

March marks a milestone in the Department of Licensing’s Enhanced Driver License/ID Card program. In a little over two years, more than 150,000 Washington residents can now say they have an enhanced license or ID card.

Even after the conclusion of the winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., more than 2,700 enhanced licenses were issued during the first week of March.

The Enhanced Driver License satisfies new federal requirements for re-entry into the U.S. at land and sea borders between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. This new requirement, part of the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, took effect June 1, 2009.

Washington is one of four states that issue Enhanced Driver Licenses or ID cards. The fee is $15 to upgrade from a valid driver license.

For more info:
Get an EDL –
Federal Travel Requirements –

Enhanced licenses and IDs good as gold at border

February 16, 2010

Blaine border crossingBy Brad Benfield

The Olympics are here and staff at DOL are excited to see our successful Enhanced Driver License and ID Card program fulfill its promise as a faster, easier and less expensive alternative to a U.S. Passport for Washington residents visiting the Winter Games.

Demand for the EDL has been very strong over the past few months. As the Games approached, DOL was issuing more than 2,500 of the cards every week. Today, 140,000 Washington residents carry enhanced driver licenses or ID cards.

It’s very satisfying to be living through the moments Governor Gregoire envisioned several years ago when she met with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell. They discussed common concerns about promoting trade and tourism and doing everything they could to keep traffic flowing smoothly at our shared border during the Olympics this month and the upcoming Vancouver B.C. Paralympic Winter Games in March.

But the Enhanced Driver License and ID Card program isn’t over. After all of the Olympic and Paralympic events are done, the medals all have been awarded and the athletes all have gone home, enhanced driver licenses and ID cards will continue to serve Washington residents traveling by land and sea to Canada, Mexico and other popular travel destinations in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, our model has been adopted by many other states and Canadian provinces now issuing enhanced licenses and ID cards of their own.

New pre-screening times for EDL applicants

July 17, 2009

(Updated July 20 at 10:36am, PST)

DOL is adapting to surges in demand for Enhanced Driver Licenses, and demand remains high after the June 1 WHTI deadline.  So far, nearly 80-thousand Washingtonians are enjoying the convenience EDL offers to land and sea border travelers.

To help get more customers served, the busiest DOL offices that issue Enhanced Driver Licenses have been pre-screening EDL applicants waiting outside beginning at 7:15 am. The are 9 offices that issue EDL’s that are conducting pre-screening activities prior to the office opening. They are Kennewick, Lacey, Mt Vernon, Parkland, Renton, Seattle West, Smokey Point, Spokane, Wenatchee. Pre-screening times vary from office to office, see specific start times below.

Outside prescreening begins at 8 am in:

  • Wenatchee
  • Spokane
  • Parkland

Outside prescreening begins at 7:45 am in:

  • Smokey Point
  • Mt Vernon
  • Kennewick

Outside prescreening begins at 7:15 in:

  • West Seattle
  • Renton
  • Lacey

There is no early prescreening in North Vancouver because volumes there remain reasonable.

EDLs remain available by appointment only in Bothell, Seattle Downtown, Port Angeles, and Bellingham (Bellingham will accept walk in EDL applicants beginning July 28, 2009).

As a reminder: You must bring proof of identity, U.S. citizenship, and WA residency to apply for EDL. Please visit for a list of acceptable documents, and remember to BRING ORIGINALS.  No EDL applications will be accepted after 2pm on weekdays or noon on Saturdays.

Summer is typically the busiest time of year in Licensing Service Offices, so come early and come prepared.  Also, you can do many DOL services online, so log onto to see if you can skip the trip!

ADVISORY: Increased Demand for Enhanced Driver License

July 6, 2009


Customers at several DOL offices are experiencing longer than usual wait-times since new rules affecting international travel were implemented on June 1, 2009. Those rules are part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (“WHTI”). Many people in Washington state are responding to the new rules by applying for the convenient Enhanced Driver License. The “EDL” is also a cost-friendly alternative to a passport.

This video aims to assist Washingtonians by providing useful information that can help make obtaining an EDL as smooth as possible. Thank you for your interest. And happy traveling!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,853 other followers