Depending on where you live, getting a Real ID — a sort of verified driver’s license — can be a real pain. Some state departments of motor vehicles are so jammed you can’t reach them online or by phone. Happily, requiring Real ID for airline travel has been postponed (again) to May 1, 2023.

We drove to a small town in Tennessee to get Real ID licenses, seeking shorter lines. My wife had sufficient documentation to pass, but I did not. My hospital birth certificate wasn’t good enough; it had to be from the state of Ohio. (Gosh, maybe I was never born.) The clerk also rejected my expired passport. (Hey, I haven’t expired.)

I solved the problem by simply renewing my passport, which will let me board a plane. The State Department allows up to 15 years from date of issue to renew. The state of Tennessee doesn’t. While I was at it, I got a “passport card,” which can be used to board airplanes and enter Canada, if they ever let us in again. (I long for the fresh seafare at Family Fisheries on Campobello.)

Is this whole exercise really necessary? Or has it turned into a bureaucratic fiasco? Real ID came in the panicked wake of 9/11 after foreign terrorists easily boarded four jetliners. With more support from Republicans than Democrats, Real ID passed Congress in 2005, scheduled to be phased in over many years. I suspect the unworkable act will never be fully implemented.

Its key project is to turn state-issued driver’s licenses into de facto national IDs, something they were never intended for. National IDs for all citizens have never existed in the U.S. but are standard in Europe. To issue Real ID licenses, which are marked by a star, states must adhere to federal documentation standards.

Driver’s licenses, especially after they started carrying photos, took on more functions and are now needed to buy cigarettes and alcohol, vote, cash checks, claim health insurance, purchase guns and, oh yes, drive a car. Real ID overloads driver’s licenses to the breaking point.

To be sure, identification is often too easy to get and needs national standards. Criminals routinely manufacture false IDs. Joel Greenberg, the Florida ex–tax collector and ex–friend of Rep. Matt Gaetz, allegedly altered dozens of IDs as a sideline. Online computer scamsters stole billions of recent COVID relief.

A strange coalition of Real ID opponents formed. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, privacy advocates and pro-gun people disliked the law’s intrusion into Americans’ rights. Republicans, who claim to oppose bureaucracy, let bureaucracy run amok.

The 2005 law requires Real IDs to enter federal buildings and power plants. Those who want to speak to their congressperson, the IRS or a Social Security specialist may not be allowed in the building. Maybe that could have prevented the storming of Capitol Hill.

Some fear Real ID driver’s licenses will be used for voter suppression. If states make Real ID licenses the only kind they issue, some people will lack acceptable documentation. Getting it will be a task that discourages many from trying. In some states, standards might vary by skin color.

Standing before the motor-vehicles clerk — who is now in effect a citizenship judge — you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. (To be fair, the clerk probably never wanted that responsibility.) That is not what the Constitution envisioned and could become the basis for civil-rights lawsuits that nullify most of the law.

Actually, proving identity is darn hard. Medicare cards no longer even carry your Social Security number, which you are warned to hold close. Scamsters try to steal it to obtain credit cards and welfare payments. Indeed, millions of undocumented workers use someone else’s Social Security number in applying for jobs. Checking it is not employers’ top concern. “Heck, he gave me a Social Security number,” they shrug.

Well, those needing a valid ID can do what I did: get a passport. Trouble is, it takes three months and costs $110, several times that of a state driver’s license, enough to discourage many average citizens. And if it’s a first-time application you will need proof of birth, too.

The untouched problem: Real ID would not have prevented 9/11. No identification can ensure against malign intent. An ID could be totally accurate but not detect its bearer’s aims to commit horrible acts. We could demand that air travelers state any extremist affiliations or tendencies, but none would; terrorists routinely lie. How will foreign air passengers prove their identity? Will we trust their passports? Safest policy would ban noncitizens from flying at all.

America and other countries are under pressure to become surveillance states. China might not need physical IDs because facial recognition plugged into artificial intelligence will tell the regime everything about everybody. No more troublemakers. A totally obedient society. Not my favorite way to live.