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National driver's license plan comes under fire


By Patrick Thibodeau

(IDG) -- Congress will be asked to spend $100 million or more to create a uniform driver's license system that would rely heavily on identification technologies to ensure that it isn't abused. INFOCENTER
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But organizers of the effort, led by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), an organization that has developed standards for driver's license identification and operates some license databases, were on the defensive at a press briefing today about the plan and are fighting criticism from privacy groups, which say the move could lead to national ID cards.

The intent isn't to infringe on privacy, said Linda Lewis, the AAMVA's president. "What we're trying to do is to connect databases that motor vehicle agencies currently have in place so that they are able to exchange information about drivers who are standing in front of them," she said.

This effort, if it succeeds, would accomplish a number of things.

First, it would create a means for state motor vehicle departments to conduct a national check of driver's licenses through the use of a large national database. Second, it would seek to create a driver's license that could provide irrefutable identification. States could consider biometric standards such as fingerprinting or iris scans, magnetic strips, bar codes, integrated circuit cards, digital imaging or other unique technologies to encode photographs.

The most difficult part may be creating this unique identifier.

"Implementing a biometric measure on a driver's license is going to be a big problem, and it has to do with legislative, political and technological constraints," said Jim Wayman, who heads the Biometric Test Center at California's San Jose University.

Under Michigan law, it is illegal to put fingerprints on a driver's license, and there has been legislation pending in the states of Washington and Alabama to make fingerprint identification illegal, said Wayman.

There are also technological problems. There's no standard readable format for fingerprints, and when efforts were made to get the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a standard, it ran into opposition from the biometrics industry, said Wayman.

On the state level, creating a unique identifier is the big problem for states that don't have the means yet to deploy such technologies, said Michael Becker, IT manager for North Dakota's Department of Transportation, in Bismarck. "That is where most of the debate is: What is the unique identifier?"

But states are in a better position now to create a national database of driver's records, said Becker. They already participate in a national commercial driver's license database and a database intended to flag problem drivers, such as people with suspended licenses. The only difference in the idea now being proposed would be the volume of data in such a database, said Becker.

"We have all the interfaces and all the communications already in place," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to reject the plan.

"The nationwide standardization of driver's licenses is just a national ID by another name," said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel, in a statement. "And just like other national ID proposals, this would be ineffective in the fight against terrorism and represent a dangerous threat to our freedoms."


• American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators

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