ACLU Skewers DMV Proposal As 'De Facto' National ID

By Brian Krebs, Newsbytes WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A., 15 Jan 2002, 10:30 AM CST

A tentative plan by all 50 state motor vehicle agencies to upgrade and standardize driver's licenses presents a major privacy threat and amounts to a national ID program in everything but name, civil liberties advocates charged Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took aim at a proposal announced Monday by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) calling on Congress to authorize state and federal authorities to share information on identity cards applicants. The DMV body also requested funding to equip state IDs with technology that ties the cards to their owners' unique physical characteristics or preferences.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Katie Corrigan said the proposal would create a de facto national ID by another name, circumventing the necessary public and legislative debate on the issue.

"Just like other national ID proposals, this would be ineffective in the fight against terrorism and represent a dangerous threat to our freedoms," Corrigan said.

The recommendations sprang from an AAMVA task force formed in the wake of Sept. 11 and charged with improving the security features of the more than 200 different state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards.

The plan would allow DMVs to share identity card applications with the Social Security Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the FBI to help weed out identity criminals, suspected terrorists and foreign visitors who overstay their visas.

Proponents of the plan hardly quibble with the notion that state ID cards already serve as the de facto national ID, noting that roughly 75 percent of Americans carry some form of DMV-issued ID.

"The terrorist attacks on September 11 brought to light a fact that we in the motor vehicle community have known for some time," AAMVA President Linda Lewis said at a press conference on Monday. "That the state-issued driver's license is more than just a license to drive: It's the most widely-used domestic document to verify a person's identity."

Lewis said she was troubled by what she called a misinformation campaign to label the plan as some "huge database in the sky."

"What we're trying to do is connect databases that already exist so that motor vehicle agencies are able to exchange information about drivers coming from another state to make sure (they don't) provide a license to someone they shouldn't."

The AAMVA has asked Congress for up to $100 million to fund the new initiatives. But the ACLU believes that number could easily balloon as the administrative costs of implementing such a giant system are realized.

ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt said he was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving a massive national database of highly sensitive information in the hands of every DMV in the nation.

"I, for one, do not believe that Americans trust their local DMV to keep many of the most intimate details of their lives safe and free of error," he said.

The proposal comes a month after the California DMV found itself in hot water following revelations that the state had sold its birth records database to a pair of genealogy Web sites.

As for biometric identifiers, the AAMVA has not yet endorsed a particular technology to be paired with the strengthened state ID cards. The DMV group is considering everything from retinal scans to fingerprint samples to personal identification numbers (PINs).

Several states ­ California, Colorado, Texas and Georgia - have already begun issuing ID cards with biometric devices, and a bill to enact such measures was recently introduced in the Virginia legislature.

In addition, West Virginia and Mississippi DMVs will soon begin pilot projects using facial recognition technology that can match an applicant's personal information with digital photos on file.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is currently working on a bill to implement the proposal. House Government Reform Subcommittee Chairman Stephen Horn, R-Calif., also has introduced legislation that would establish an independent commission to study the issue.

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