Driver's licenses get another look

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"In the system"

Can a bank teller in Maine be expected to know what an authentic California driver's license looks like? No, says the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, and the lack of license uniformity among the states permits widespread identification fraud.

The association is asking Congress to pass a law setting uniform standards for driver's licenses and requiring much more stringent identification verification before licenses are issued.

Arguing that driver's licenses have become "the most widely used domestic document to verify a person's identity," AAMVA President Linda Lewis said it is time to make them more resistant to fraud.

The terrorists who hijacked four airliners Sept. 11 and attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon used driver's licenses as identification for boarding the planes, she said.

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 an identification number or a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint or eye scan.

To improve identity verification, AAMVA wants state license officials to check personal data submitted by license applicants against data held in government databases to verify names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates and other personal information. Before issuing driver's licenses, state motor vehicle officlals should also search through FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service databases for criminal records and immigration status, Lewis said.

AAMVA also wants state driver's license databases to be interconnected so that licensing officials can check other states to ensure that each applicant receives only one license.

Lewis promised that gaining access to government databases and linking state databases will not lead to Big Brother-like electronic surveillance of license holders, as some privacy advocates fear.

They worry that AAMVA's proposal would create the equivalent of a national identification card whose use 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."

"We don't want to invade privacy," said Alan Cockman, AAMVA's board chairman. He said the association might encourage Congress and the states to pass tougher privacy laws to ensure that driver's license information is not abused.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is drafting legislation that would accomplish many of AAMVA's proposals.

"This is not about creating a new national ID card" or a centralized "mega-database" of citizens' personal data, Durbin said. "I understand the concerns that Americans have about going in that direction."

But states have been far too lax about ensuring that driver's licenses are authentic, Durbin said. "In America, anyone who can produce a valid driver's license can access just about anything. It can get you a motel room, membership in a gym, airline tickets, flight lessons and even the ability to buy guns — all without anyone ever questioning you about who you are. If you can produce a driver's license, we just assume that you are legitimate."

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