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The hidden data in your driver's license

ID cards go smart with encoded personal information

Handheld scanners read driver's license data and then displays information on screen.
Handheld scanners read driver's license data and then displays information on screen.  

(CNN) -- It seems not too long ago that the highest tech device that a bouncer may have had was a flashlight to check out a driver's license. But these days, more and more bars and night clubs, convenience stores and liquor stores are using high-tech ID scanners in order to look at the information that's actually embedded in many driver's licenses.

With the technology, the data that is encoded in the license itself can be compared to information on the front that could actually be faked or forged. It makes it easier to check for underage drinkers or smokers and even helps law enforcement.

But not every state has the same standard for licenses. There is no national standard in terms of how the information is encoded, the different types of information that's encoded in the license itself, and the ways in which it can be read by different ID scanners.

There are various ID scanners available but they all work in much the same way. Bar codes or magnetic strips are read for information and then sent to a screen that displays name, address and various other information about the person. It also tells whether alcohol and tobacco sales are permitted to that person, based on age. Alerts about the person could also show up, a helpful tool for law enforcement.

Public eyes on private data?

Critics cite privacy issues with these ID scanners, particularly because the machines are capable of storing the information that is read.

The companies that make them -- both InteleCheck and Logix -- say that there are restrictions in place for whether or not the bar owners or store owners can actually read this information. They can be set so that only bits of information come up, not everything that's on the license.

As well, there are different laws according to states of what can actually be used, or encoded or read. The privacy advocates are concerned, for example, about marketing. They say personal information can be tracked and marketing can be directed at specific audiences based on individual's actions.

The potential for even greater use of these scanners has increased with the war against terrorism. They could possibly be used in airports and used as a security screening device, for instance, to verify the authenticity of the license.




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