Senator preps driver license bill

In the interests of national security and identity theft prevention, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) expects to introduce legislation this month providing minimum uniform standards for state-issued driver's licenses.

He offered little detail about what the legislation would contain; however, following an April 16 hearing on the issue by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

But he said the legislation could provide incentives to states to meet minimum standards and for licenses to contain minimal biometric identification standards, such as fingerprints. "If we move legislation on a reasonable level, it'll create force for change and a national movement," he said.

The issue erupted after officials learned that many of the Sept. 11 terrorists fraudulently obtained driver's licenses. Durbin said the hearing wasn't about creating a national ID system, but to create "accurate national standards" for state-issued licenses.

Durbin, who said he was a victim of identity theft, heard from a panel heavily in favor of strengthening the driver's license as an identification document through establishing national minimum standards, incorporating biometric security features, linking state and federal databases, and imposing stiffer penalties.

"What we have is a system that is broken and a product that is not very reliable," said Betty Serian, a vice chairwoman with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) (, which issued recommendations for national standards earlier this year.

An example of a good information system, she said, is the 1986 federally mandated Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS), an AAMVA-managed clearinghouse used by motor vehicle agencies to limit commercial drivers to only one such license. In a four-year period, CDLIS has kept 871,000 potentially dangerous drivers off the roads, she said.

Richard Varn, Iowa's chief information officer, said the issue really isn't the ID card itself but the databases. "It isn't what you carry. It is which databases are accurate, complete, and accessible," he said. Iowa is currently creating an Identify-Security Clearinghouse linking birth and death records to a Social Security number and one driver's license.

Although the National Governors Association ( and National Association of State Chief Information Officers ( do not have an official position on the issue, Varn said, both are working with other organizations on the issue.

In Kansas, state Sen. Barbara Allen said she had introduced legislation to stem identity theft. "Today, I regret to say, Kansas is one of the easiest states in the nation in which to obtain false identification and to steal someone's identity," she said. While privacy is an issue, she said that only those who have something to hide would lose out by improving the security of the driver's license as an ID.

J. Bradley Jansen, deputy director at the Free Congress Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said creating a national ID system would not prevent terrorism or identity fraud, it would be expensive, and it would depend on a "massive bureaucracy."

"Even with a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint, there is no guarantee that individuals won't be identified, or more importantly, misidentified, in error," he said. "The accuracy of biometric technology varies depending on the type and implementation. And, it would be even more difficult to remedy identity fraud when a thief has a national ID card with your name on it, but his biometric information."

But Barry Goleman, vice president with American Management Systems Inc.'s State and Local Solutions group, said technology can help strengthen the security of the license, which costs states about $1 per card to produce. Adding biometric features could cost up to $5 a card if mass-produced, he said. "Don't let detractors say that this can't be done," he said.


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