Ridge: Link driver's license, visa

The Office of Homeland Security is urging states to establish tighter control

over foreign visitors by issuing driver's licenses that expire when visas


The office is drafting model legislation to require that driver's licenses

issued to non-citizens be tied to visas, homeland security spokesman Gordon

Johndroe said March 14. The model is to be sent to the states for consideration

by legislatures.

In recent weeks, Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security,

has been encouraging governors and other state officials to take steps to

improve the security and authenticity of driver's licenses.

In a conference call with state officials March 7, Ridge told state

emergency management officials that he hopes motor vehicle departments can

be electronically linked to databases maintained by the federal Immigration

and Naturalization Service. That would enable state workers to check the

immigration status of foreign nationals who apply for driver's licenses

and issue licenses that would expire when visas expire.

Such capability also could enable the states to help keep better track

of visiting foreigners.

INS has asked Congress for $380 million to build an entry and exit data

system to keep track of foreign visitors. The system may include biometric

identification information such as fingerprints or eye scans of visa holders.

Such information also could be included on driver's licenses.

Ridge's telephone remarks came about 10 days after he urged governors

attending a National Governors Association meeting to draft model legislation

setting standards for more secure licensing procedures. By coming up with

their own standards, Ridge said, the governors would avoid having standards

forced on them by Congress.

Driver's licenses became a source of concern after the Sept. 11 terrorist

attacks because most of the terrorists used such licenses — obtained legally

and illegally — for identification.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is pressing

Congress to pass a law requiring states to adopt more uniform standards

for driver's licenses and stricter procedures for issuing them.

AAMVA officials said they want licenses to include security features

that make counterfeiting more difficult, and they want some form of "unique

identifier," possibly a biometric identifier such as a fingerprint or eye


The AAMVA also wants much more thorough verification of a license applicant's

identity before a license is issued. To accomplish that, the association

wants Congress to earmark as much as $100 million for a computerized Driver

Record Information Verification System that would enable federal and state

agencies to more readily share information they have collected on drivers.

Thus, identification verification might involve cross-checking data

submitted by license applicants with government databases that contain names,

addresses, passport numbers and Social Security numbers, law enforcement

records and INS data, AAMVA officials said.

The association also wants state driver's license databases to be interconnected

so that licensing officials can check to see whether applicants already

have licenses from other states.

Privacy advocates oppose high-tech licenses backed by interconnected

databases, fearing driver's licenses will come to be used as national identification


Johndroe said the model legislation the Office of Homeland Security

is drafting "isn't intended to lead to a national ID card; it is intended

to strengthen homeland security."


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