ID card plan assailed

A plan to require states to include biometric identification and other standard data on driver's licenses and to interconnect state driver's license databases could increase identity theft, decrease privacy and limit freedom, a civil liberties organization warns.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) proposal is intended to make driver's licenses more reliable as identification cards, but the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says the plan would turn driver's licenses into "internal passports" and set up the infrastructure for a national surveillance system.

Arguing that driver's licenses are already the "ID card of choice" nationwide, AAMVA officials are urging Congress to require states to make them more secure.

The association has called for stricter identification checks before licenses are issued and uniform standards for information that must be included on them. The group also wants state license holder databases to be interconnected so that information about license holders is readily available nationwide via computers.

AAMVA issued its proposal in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and reports that a number of the 19 terrorists had fraudulently obtained driver's licenses. AAMVA officials say they do not want to create a national ID card, but rather to combat identity fraud and terrorism by improving the security of state driver's licenses. But EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg called the proposed licenses "a de facto national ID card." He said they could become "an internal passport" that would restrict travel in the United States.

The new driver's licenses would also likely increase the incentive for fraud, destroy personal privacy and create grave complications for individuals when fraud or mistakes in data occur.

Perceived as more reliable, the new driver's licenses would likely become indispensable whenever identification is required, for example, during commercial transactions. Their increased importance would also increase the incentive to forge or steal them, Rotenberg said.

If made machine-readable, personal information from driver's licenses would be collected wherever licenses are shown for identification — from health clubs to video rental stores, Rotenberg said. Such widespread access to personal data is an enormous invasion of privacy, he added.

Most ominous, perhaps, is the difficulty license holders will likely encounter when mistakes are made in the personal information stored in databases.

Large databases "are notoriously mistake-prone, difficult to secure and open to abuse," EPIC says in a report that assails the AAMVA plan. "The difficulty correcting a credit report might be trivial compared to correcting one's record in the national database," Rotenberg said.

Consider what would happen when the wrong biometric identifiers are associated with an individual, either by mistake or fraud. It would be extremely difficult for the individual to prove his or her identity, EPIC said.

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