Bill calls for driver's license chip

Legislation that two Virginia congressmen introduced May 1 would require

all states to issue driver's licenses that contain a computer chip filled

with identification information, including personal biometric data.

The licenses are intended to wipe out driver's license counterfeiting

and other forms of identity fraud, according to its sponsors, Reps. James

Moran (D) and Tom Davis (R), who represent technology-dense districts in

Northern Virginia.

But the bill is sure to generate stiff opposition from privacy advocates,

who fear driver's licenses will become the equivalent of national identification

cards that could be used to collect information on their holders' activities.

Moran and Davis would give the states up to five years to switch to

"smart card" driver's licenses that include a biometric identifier such

as a fingerprint or eye scan stored in digital form and readable by an electronic

scanner.

Their bill, the Driver's License Modernization Act of 2002, also would

require the states to maintain interconnected databases containing information

on license holders. With the databases, authorities in any state could check

the identification data and motor vehicle records of any license holder.

Such a system of licenses and databases "can make a profound difference

in our personal and national security," Moran said during a press conference

unveiling the legislation.

It would "help prevent fraud, falsification and future acts of terror,"

Davis said in a prepared statement.

Because of lax identification checks in Virginia, eight of the 19 Sept.

11 hijackers obtained fraudulent driver's licenses there and likely used

the licenses as identification to board the planes they hijacked.

Despite its promise of tighter security, the plan for "smart" driver's

licenses raises "significant privacy issues," said Marc Rotenberg, director

of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"There is little public support for a national ID card, and lawmakers

are aware of that, so they keep saying it's not a national ID card." But

the licenses Moran and Davis propose would serve as the equivalent of national

ID cards and have ominous implications for the future or privacy in the

United States, he said.

Moran insisted such concerns are "unfounded." He said the Driver's License

Modernization Act prohibits using the high-tech driver's licenses to track

individuals. "We share many of the privacy concerns, and there are provisions

in the bill to prevent abuses," he said.

For example, private entities that use the licenses for identification,

such as merchants or banks, would be forbidden to "capture" information

from the licenses, said Shane Ham, a policy analyst at the Progressive Policy

Institute, a Democratic think tank that helped draft the legislation.

Businesses would be permitted to swipe a license through a reader to

compare the digitized fingerprint with the fingerprint of the card holder

to verify identification. But they would not be permitted to use the card

to keep a digital record of a transaction, Ham said. However, authorized

government entities, such as police, would be permitted to store data from

the licenses. Thus, digital records could be created of traffic stops, visits

to secure government buildings, trips to airports and other instances where

government entities require licenses to be presented for identification.

Moran stressed that the legislation would imprsove the integrity of

U.S. identification systems. More secure identification cards will make

identity theft more difficult, reduce underage drinking and keep drivers

with a license suspended in one state from easily getting a license from

another state, he said.

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