Federal Real ID May (Not) Be Required For Park Visit

Michael Chertoff, DHS portrait

I'm Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, and I'm watching you through this computer screen right now.

It is hard to imagine at this point, but in just over a year, under a plan developed by Homeland Security, you may be asked to show a special federal identification to enter a national park. I can understand the security need behind having a passport to enter the country, and I can understand the need for important background checks before entering a nuclear facility, but needing the same federal security check to drive through a park is absurd.

On its surface, the Real ID program seems simple enough. Homeland Security wants to set some standards for the way states create their drivers licenses and i.d. cards. Beyond the fun of having a fancy new drivers license, you would be required to present it for any "federal purpose". You would have to show it to access planes, trains, court houses, and national parks. If that doesn't bother you, consider that all of the personal data which uniquely identifies you will be stored in a machine readable form (like a bar-code). Today this data is stuff like your social security number and address, but in the future could include biometric data like retinal scans or DNA; a treasure trove of detail for identity thieves. Plus, every time you choose to have a picnic at a park, your visit would be recorded in a massive government database. Bye bye privacy, hello big brother.

Today, this legislation is opposed by more than 600 organizations, including the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Library Association the Association for Computing Machinery, the National Council of State Legislatures, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Governors Association. Many states oppose this program as well, as they would be the ones responsible for the cost of the upgrading their licensing procedures and equipment. It's estimated the program would cost states $14 billion over the next decade.

Brodie Farquhar, a reporter living in Wyoming (and one who frequently follows issues in the parks), followed up with the NPS Washington Office about the Real ID requirement for parks in a recent article.

Gerry Gaumer, deputy director of communications for the National Park Service, said he’s not sure how Yellowstone, for example, or any other unit of the Park Service would handle the Real ID program.

"We’ve received no guidance from DHS, and this is the first I’ve heard of it," Gaumer said.

Rangers don’t currently check IDs at entrances to parks, he said. "And some of our areas are not fee-based," he added.

The Real ID is an issue that we'll track here at the National Parks Traveler. At this point, I'm of the opinion that this program may not have legs. It is opposed my so many organizations, states, and the current Congressional majority, that with a new President (Dem or Rep) we may see a shakeup in Homeland Security, and this thing will fall silently off the radar. At least that is what I'm hoping. Finding freedom in the parks would be a lot more difficult with the government tracking our every move.

We've received some additional detail from the National Park Service regarding this Real ID. This is quoted directly from the Federal Register notice of March 9, 2007 (pp. 10819-10858):

These regulations are not intended to change current admittance practices at Federal facilities. If a Federal facility does not currently require presentation of photo identification prior to entry, the Act and these proposed regulations would not require that process to change.

So, if you don't have to show a license now to get into parks, you won't have to under the Real ID program either. But, as has been pointed out in comments, if you hold a National Parks Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass, you are already required to show ID to verify you are the legitimate owner of the pass. I am sure that will continue to be the practice at entrance gates no matter what the fate of the Real ID program. However, I believe there would have been a big difference with the enforcement of Real ID program for a few reasons.

Potentially, every person entering a park would have to have a federally recognized Real ID and you would have had to show it to federal officers (park rangers) when asked. In most cases, this would have been your state issued drivers license which would include the Real ID updates. Park rangers would have then been able to scan your card, which would have recorded your visit into a federal database. You would not have had a choice about this. It sounds very '1984', huh?

Fortunately, this does not appear to be the direction this program is going in the national parks. (Sorry for the bold, but I felt it necessary to stress that point.) Today, when you are asked to show your license with a park pass, you have made an implicit agreement to do so when you bought the pass. If you chose to pay cash to enter a park, you would not be asked for your ID. The only other time I can think we are currently asked for our ID in parks, is when a law enforcement ranger asks us to do so for reasons associated with public safety or resource protection.


Even at Yosemite National Park, the entry gates on the roads are only staffed during normal office hours. There isn't the budget for staff to manage visitor entrances and exits at other times.

I was once told by someone at another park that hikers entering and exiting the parks on foot from adjacent forst or BLM wilderness areas were still liable for park entry fees. But of course, there is no way they could justify the manpower to enforce that either.

It may be some security bureaucrat's dream to identify every park visitor, but there just aren't the resources to ever make it happen.
The WildeBeat "The audio journal about getting into the wilderness"
Download the MP3 programs or subscribe to the podcast at...

Yosemite is not an unusual circumstance, in the staffing of "gated" entry points only during normal business hours, whatever that translates into. It seems as though the definition of normal varies widely across the system in actual practice, irrespective of the printed literature. During the course of my wanderings I always time my entry to ensure that I'm not wasting precious time waiting in line for the privilege of entry. But seeing as I purchase annual park passes, I can't honestly feign any sense of guilt in my practice either. But I'm curious as to why this identity card is required at park service centers and not, apparently at border crossings.....maybe somebody can explain that one to me with a straight face. It's also true that there simply isn't enough manpower to effectively police the parks, but is that really an issue? Anybody care to venture a guess, in terms of overall percentage, how many non-paying customers we're dealing with and the total dollar revenue being circumvented? Granted every dollar is more precious than gold to the operating budgets of the parks, but I doubt whether the extra few thousand (I'm being generous) dollars that average out across all parks is enough to warrant this extreme response from Homeland Security. When they start effectively responding to the situation with our borders, I'll purchase their stupid card. Until such time, if this inane policy is indeed implemented prior to the border mess being cleaned up, it should prove to be quite a boom-time for the state parks systems. And a corresponding decrease for backcountry permit applications.

Yet another reason to reclaim our public lands from the federal government.

Federal law enforcement already has the legal right to inspect your ID at any time while you are out on federal property -- regardless of what you are doing. If you do not have a passport or other federally-compliant ID, then when the so-called "Real ID Act" kicks in, they will also have the legal right to detain you until your identity can be verified.

This is a legal right. It has nothing to do with technology, databases, resources, citizen complaints, or desire to enforce the law. Law enforcement is separate from a law's existence, and this law is already two years old. Maybe when the law kicks in there won't be much enforcement -- then again, maybe there will -- but what about in five or ten years?

Bottom line: starting May 11, 2008, every person out on federal land runs the risk of being detained if their ID does not comply with the so-called "Real ID Act."

I sincerely doubt that anyone actually intends to require ID at all National Parks. All the other examples, federal buildings, courthouses, planes and trains, are secure environments, so we can expect that the ID might be required at similar sites. The Washington Monument, for example, has metal detectors and x-ray machines. The Liberty Bell requires some level of security check. I don't know whether ID is particularly useful in those places, but I think we can agree that it makes more sense to require ID at that sort of monument than at Wilson's Creek or Hovenweep.

However, for the sake of historical context, I'll note that back in the sepia-toned early days of the national parks, visitors had to give their names and home addresses at the entrance stations as a matter of course. That's what entrance stations were for.

That this idea is even being entertained as a possibility is ample proof that the federal government is NOT the entity that should be running the parks and monuments of this land.

It sounds like some lost plan that a diligent historian has unearthed from the hidden vaults of Nazi Germany, where Himmler proposed a plan to check I.D.s at the entrances to German parks in order to maintain national purity and prevent the unwanted invasion of "undesirables" and seditious aliens like Jews and gypsies.

This is so totalitarian and downright whacko that I can't believe most folks who contribute dialogue to this website are still such avid cheerleaders for the federal government, especially in light of their abysmal record whether it is in Iraq or the Florissant Fossil Beds.

Your government education and servile indoctrination has served them well.

It is whacko; are people serious about organizing a movement not to comply? Why do I get the sense that if this happens and a boycott is organized that people will still find themselves putting themselves through this absurdity?

Just brand us now; that would save the government a lot of time and money.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Wanted to let folks know, I've made an important update to the original story. We've heard from the National Park Service today. Upon further study, it appears as if revealing a Real ID to park rangers would not be a requirement of admittance into our national parks. More details are at the end of the original article above.

This is still a point that needs clarity. In some states and the District of Columbia, you are not required to show an ID to anyone for any reason when stopped by a law enforcement official (you do need IDs for verification for employment). In some places, even if you are arrested, you are still not required to show an ID. You will be processed in the system as a John Doe. In other states, this is not true. What are the rules on federal public lands? How is it different in the parks? Are there parks where state law is used as the enforcement mechanism?

I think people could use a legal primer on what the law currently is so that they can make informed choices on how to avoid showing identity. When and where people are and are not required to show ID is important. It's not terribly important to me as an individual, but there are a lot of populations where the ID requirements are used to intimidate and harrass. During Bush's second inaugural, we had numerous reports from homeless people that the Metropolitan police here in DC were requiring them to have IDs or be escorted from the streets. This was a harrassment technique, not a legally sound maneuver, but what are you going to do? The same certainly applies for people visiting national parks for whom English is not a first language and a host of other groups.

There's a lot more that can be said about this. In some parks, even the animals it seems need to wear identification.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

"A reliable source" in Lassen Volcanic National Park told me recently that it costs them close to 150% as much to staff the entry and exit gates as they take in admissions revenue. And they only staff those gates in the summer during office hours.

For those of you who have an agenda to privatize the parks, this isn't going to be your tea party. For those of you worried that big brother at the DOI is going to track your camping partners, or your work-day fishing get-aways. I have it on good authority that the NPS has much larger fish to fry.
The WildeBeat "The audio journal about getting into the wilderness"
Download the MP3 programs or subscribe to the podcast at...

This is not about a particular agenda to privatize the NPS but IS about an out of control totalitarian federal Leviathan that calls the shots for all of the agencies under it's militaristic wings including the one that runs our parks.

I have no doubt that the NPS will never be able to follow such an onerous dictate from the heavy-handed Homeland Security thugs, they can barely keep up with all of the pot growers and bone thieves. The dialogue, to me, is all about deciding what is the best way to care and protect these precious places and how to provide moral and ethical leadership free of the taint of politics and a massive self-perpetuating bureaucracy. In my view Mary Bomar and crew are failing. Many out there think more money will solve everything. I don't believe that for a minute.

As long as the parks have to even have to respond to the ideas and proposals of people like Michael Chertoff and Dick Cheney there is little hope that the institutional framework is in place to do the job that is needed to be done. There are better containers out there to nurture the parks and I'm determined to keep the discussion going until we come up with something better that the current model of dysfunction and waste.

I don't support privatizing the parks, but I find this onerous. It raises other issues in respect to the way laws are enforced in the parks and the general way that parks are managed. A long time ago, Alston Chase argued about Yellowstone that the park was managed on the basis of law enforcement considerations - he went so far as to argue that the natural regulation policy that the park adopted was essentially a law enforcement concern. He said that in part because he could not explain the contradiction he saw between the hands off policy toward elk and the hands on policy in managing grizzly bears (except when they were starving). While Chase obviously had some axes to grind, I think the notion of control and public lands is an essential concept. It finds a more extreme expression in the Real ID program. If the parks aren't going to be checking for IDs, that doesn't change the basic ideas.

I don't see privatization as a check on this; in fact, it might prove to be more onerous, excluding people for any reason the owners deem acceptable. The only check I can think of as possible is popular grassroots resistance to these kinds of policies; if people aren't complying (already some states have refused to comply), then the program will be moot. However, if enough people do comply, then it won't be long before the parks will find a way to comply as well.

So, this is serious to me even if the info that Jeremy found out is true because of the issues it raises in general about identification requirements in any context (including the park context). It's also serious because of what it might suggest about management philosophy in parks at large.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I agree with Jim. This about the larger context of who is in ultimate control and how they use their power in the context of park management.

This subject warrants further inquiry. Thanks for bringing the issue to light.

The Real ID Act takes effect May 11, 2008, not "in just over a year," as this article states. At least get the date right!

Also, any DHS directive about how to enforce this law can be changed at the pleasure of DHS. Just because they say right now that they won't enforce it to the hilt -- which of course they WOULD say in order to deflect criticism and opposition to the law -- nothing prevents them from changing their minds next year, tomorrow, or right now.

Anonymous, before you call me out for having got my facts wrong, would you mind doing your own fact check? In March of this year, DHS announced a 20 month delay, pushing the time of enforcement from May 11, 2008 to the end of December 2009.

I made reservations at White Wolf and Curry Village in Yosemite over the Labor Day weekend. In order to verify that I was the reservation holder, I had to show my driver's license. Delaware North, which runs the Yosemite accommodations has my name in its computers showing all my stays from previous years. Who cares? If the government as well as Delaware North know that I like to visit Yosemite, I really don't care. The government already knows my Social Security number, they issued it! The government post offices know my address! It's far more of an intrusion that I am required every April 15 to supply the government with all my personal financial information or else. What's really odd is that those who rant against Real ID, have no problem with proposals that the government run the entire health care system and then have access to everyone's personal medical history. Compared to that, knowing that I like visiting national parks is nothing.

This is all kinda silly, because private companies have been collecting more information about us than the government has for years, yet we keep signing the sheet or clicking the OK button that says we understand their privacy policy without reading it, we waive our rights on a regular basis just to get the goods or service we're standing in line for. The fact that I'm posting on this website is somehow known by a lot more people than I'd care to know about.

At both Yellowstone and Badlands last week, the gate rangers wouldn't let me in using my National Parks Pass without showing some form of ID. One of them even made me re-sign the back of the pass using a permanent marker. I love it when other dishonest people try to scam their own government by sharing their parks pass and I have to suffer for it as a result -- absolutely love it.

The purpose of Real ID is to keep foreign terrorists who wouldn't be able to get a valid Real ID off airplanes and out of potential terrorist targets like federal buildings. Off hand, I don't think any of the National Parks would be prime targets for a terrorist attack, so I concur that the government is unlikely to have park visitor's show their Real ID. But if park rangers did check Real ID at entry stations it might help in stopping the entry of illegal aliens who are manning the marijuana growing operations inside the parks.

Yes, we waive our rights on a regular basis, but, it is a choice we make. We have the choice to accept the privacy policy or not. If I choose to, in this country, I have the choice to have on official address that includes a P.O. Box (a no-no under the Real ID), I have a choice to own a driver's license, I have a choice to move about the country and not have anyone know where I am. All of these things could potentially be *forced* on me under the Real ID. I can appreciate those of you who don't have a problem with this, as a few have said, we do this already in many instances. But as I see it, the potential of this program represents a big change in the definition of freedom in this country. In many cases, 'choice' gets thrown out the window and is replaced with 'must'.

You don't have a 'choice' as to whether or not to disclose your bank accounts, pay statements, dependents, etc. etc. to the IRS. And unless you want to travel to the National Parks by hitchhiking with cash only as your payment method, your movements are being tracked by somebody. Homeland Security has so much too do right now tracking potential terrorists, criminal illegal aliens and other lawbreakers (and doing a poor job of that) that I really don't think they'll be checking on whether little old me visited a national park or not. And if they did, I really don't care. It's not an activity that I'm ashamed of or trying to hide.

"private companies have been collecting more information about us than the government has for years, yet we keep signing the sheet or clicking the OK button that says we understand their privacy policy without reading it, we waive our rights on a regular basis just to get the goods or service we're standing in line for"

Merryland you are so right on. I too have often wondered why people get so upset over showing their driver's license to a government official when they on a weekly basis allow a greedy corporation to know how many condoms, beers, and tamons they buy.

Jeremy is right too. We can choose to get "off the grid" in many cases if we are willing to lie about our personal information and do without certain conveinences. Still, if you use a credit card to pay for purchases and give grocery stores your real name on their "savings" cards, then the government already has many ways to track where you are and what you are doing. The Real ID is superfluous. Another 14 billion down the drain.

I do find this upsetting. So, the assumption that those upset with the government aren't also upset with private industry is not much of an argument. Do you think I like getting tons of junk mail, like having my name and information sold so that others can try to sell me stuff? It's all ridiculous. How is it an argument in favor of federal ID requirements that private corporations do the same thing? It's unbelievable that the world divides so neatly for all of you. Also, that governments do this already ... so what? That we all in some way comply in order to survive, so what? Is it right? If not, is it worth resisting? And, to me, this is a no brainer. Anything that gives the government more of an excuse to force people to defend their identity is more onerous than not doing so. I think that's true everywhere, whether we are talking about anonymous postings on a private blog or proving your identity to make a purchase with your credit card at a store. And, yes, there are some drastically radical consequences of being so laissez-faire about identity that I doubt too many people have the guts to embrace. The world we live in now is worse.

Where are people willing to draw the line on these sorts of intrusions? I think people would draw a line for instance if we thought of forcing all the Jews in the country to wear Stars of David. But, what principle guides this? If it's always going to be the case that we'll justify another intrusion because it exists in some form somewhere else, we are fast on that road. And, if you ask a lot of immigrants in this country, especially people of color, then we are already pretty far along that road. Already, there is a trend against racial diversity in the national parks; do you suppose this helps matters? Instead, it makes us all assumed enemies of the state until our ID proves otherwise. That's really very, very sad.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim, I'm not in favor of any of it. It's just that each little piece of our identity that gets collected by this company and that government entity is faced with a pathetic wimper from the masses against it, and the march toward everyone knowing everything about everyone continues. We can scream about it as individuals all we want, but until someone steps in as President of this country who's not a Democrat and not a Republican, nothing will change, and it will get worse. Money drives the two parties against each other, money from big business who wants all that information, and the government has access to most if not all that information when they want or need it. The fact that the government may collect it a little more directly doesn't really change much at all, except perhaps allow them to nab terrorists a little quicker than they might otherwise. The damage has already been done and it's doubtful there's any going back at this point.

Jon, I definitely agree with you. And, I share your pessimism; I'm just not willing to give up. So, again, I'll ask what people are willing to do to organize. I put that out there not simply as a challenge I expect to fall on deaf ears, but one that's real. When I land in the Greater Yellowstone region, this is the kind of organizing I expect I'll be doing. So, it's a feeler out there to see who might be willing to bite. We can't simply be cheerleaders, and though I definitely agree that a third party President is not going to happen, all that leads me to think of is what other means would be effective. I'm interested in meeting and organizing with people interested in making that happen.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Just last week I was at some big box store, paying cash for whatever it was I was buying, and the cashier looks at me with a straight face and says "I need your phone number" before he'll ring up the sale and give me my change.

My response: "You're kidding, right?"
After a blank stare and an awkward silence, I just said "No thanks" so the cashier could continue.

He probably has no clue why I reacted that way. Today's kids are getting brainwashed into thinking this is the way it has to be. My advice would be to appeal to them directly Jim. They're in the most danger of having their brains turned off, and if you can get them excited about it, most likely to rise up against the trend.

I've been giving out fake zip codes to cashiers for years now. It's fun to mess with the system. Sometimes I throw in a Canadian postal code just to watch them squirm. 99783 is a good one to use -- Wales, Alaska -- about as close to Russia as you can get.

What's your phone number? 867-5309? :)

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I 'googled' this site after a confrontation I had yesterday at a Social Security office in Iowa. Going to the office to report my mother's death I was immediately met in the 10x10 waiting room by an armed SS guard (Dept of Social Security was on his badge). After my wife presented her driver's license I questioned the guard why this was necessary. He abrubtly stated it was a requirement at all federal facilities and because there was a sign posted at the entrance. Before reacting (or over-reacting) I decided to research this violation of my freedoms to walk into a public facility (non-fee). Here are my conclusions: (Btw: This relates to the NPS system blog at the bottom)

1.) EVERY instance needs to be challenged despite the convienance (or lack of) instead of trying to organize on a large scale. Organization on large scales are important but individual refusal to accept totalitarianism is fundamental. Doing right is always more important than doing what is easy (in this case doing nothing).

2.) The recent case of the woman riding a public bus to work, and her subsequent arrest, through a federal facilty will provide some light on how serious this will be as the DHS is going to start needing 'case-laws' for future violators of this 'law'.

3.) If you think this is about the war on terror, then you are an idiot. The war on terror is a fabricated enemy to keep us in fear and the need for a strong government with its surveilance, policing, and intelligence agencies. How will we know when we've won? Seriously people, instead of viewing porn on your internet, research ALL the inconsistencies of the 9/11 'attack'. If it was by terrorists, why hasn't anything happened since then? Are our security measures SO amazing that we've eliminated every single possible majot/minor terrorist action since 2001? Possibly research the recent transfer of armed nuclear weapons from Minot AFB, ND to Louisiana LEAK that resulted in every single person involved inthe leak dying of mysterious deaths since Aug 30, 2007 (leak date) (ie, car accidents, plance accidents, heathly people dying of cancer, etc). Point: SOME people are speculating that the low-grade weapons were not intended for Iran but to secretly be detonated on OUR soil to give the war on terror new 'life'.

4.) To the person that said they don't mind because the government already has our information, wants them to know what parks are getting the traffic, and .. since the corporations have already been collecting personal data on us for year ... that it is okay. Repsonse: OMG!! You have serious trust and/or lack of discernment issues. You are, or also probably surround yourself with, victims that are constantly being 'enabled' and never cured.

5.) Lastly, you all are concerned about the welfare of the NPS but it is just microscopic compared to the bigger things that are going on. Below are to google video sites that should be viewed. Once you see eith of these you will stand up against EVEN the idea of an encroachment of our freedoms ... in any area.

Directors cut (AWESOME): http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1656880303867390173

15 minute PROMO (Very Good): http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4035648463442185390

I look forward to your replies: I dare you to watch the/a above video(s) and see what your think about the Real ID Card in our 'national' park system.