Officials ID better licensing

State officials who issue driver's licenses want to make it much harder

to obtain fraudulent licenses, in part by giving state officials more access

to government computer databases so they can more thoroughly check applicants'

information.

Licensing officials promise that gaining access to government databases

will not lead to Big Brother-like electronic surveillance of license holders,

as some privacy advocates fear.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) said

it will urge Congress to pass legislation to create uniform standards for

the states to follow when issuing driver's licenses. Sen. Richard Durbin

(D-Ill.) is drafting such a bill.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made clear the nation's need for more

stringent standards for identification, said Linda Lewis, president of the

association. "The state-issued driver's license is more than a license to

drive," she said. "It is the most widely used domestic document to verify

a person's identity."

Driver's licenses are too often issued without adequate verification

of the recipient's identity, said Betty Serian, deputy secretary of the

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and too many types of driver's

licenses are issued.

Serian headed a Special Task Force on Identification Security for AAMVA

and concluded that uniform, nationwide standards are needed for driver's

licenses.

More than 200 different valid forms of identification are issued by

states, she said. "So how can a bank teller in Maine be expected to know

what a California state driver's license really looks like?" she asked.

AAMVA does not want all state driver's licenses to look the same, but

it does want them all to have common features, including some form of "unique

identifier" that might be a number or a biometric identifier, such as a

fingerprint or eye scan.

Just as important, AAMVA wants much more thorough checking of a license

applicant's identity before a license is issued. That might mean an end

to the current practice of applying for a license and receiving it the same

day, Lewis said.

One method of verification might be to cross-check personal data submitted

by license applicants with government databases. Computers could compare

names, addresses, passport numbers and Social Security numbers and check

police, FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service records among other

databases, Lewis said.

AAMVA also wants state driver's license databases to be interconnected

so that licensing officials can check other states to see whether applicants

already have a license elsewhere.

Interconnecting databases would not threaten personal privacy, she insisted.

Privacy advocates worry that AAMVA's proposal would create the equivalent

of a national identification card that could leave an electronic trail wherever

its holders are required or choose to use it.

"There has been a lot of misinformation" about more secure driver's

licenses, Lewis said. There would be no "huge database in the sky," she

said.

"We don't want to invade privacy," said Alan Cockman, AAMVA's board

chairman. The association would urge Congress and the states to pass tougher

privacy laws to assure that driver's license information is not abused,

he said.

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