A critical difference

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"Identity crisis"

Talk of data mining and electronic tracking exasperate officials at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

"The only thing we're interested in tracking is driver information," insisted Jay Maxwell, president of AAMVA.net, a telecommunications affiliate of the association.

"People confuse what the technology is capable of doing with what we're planning to do with the technology," he said. "If we don't design a system to track, it won't track."

More secure driver's licenses are not national ID cards, Maxwell said. He outlined several differences:

* National ID cards would be mandatory, but no one is required to get a driver's license. Licenses are issued only to those who can pass driving tests.

* When asked for an ID, people can use something other than a driver's license.

* A national ID, presumably, would have to be carried at all times. A driver's license can be revoked for poor driving, failure to pay child support, theft of gasoline and other offenses.

"The purpose we're pursuing is only tangentially related to terrorists," Maxwell said. "We're primarily interested in highway safety."

Smart cards with biometric identifiers and security features such as holograms would make driver's licenses harder to counterfeit, and interconnected driver databases would give police access to driving records. That would make it much harder for bad drivers to get new licenses, according to AAMVA. And better driver's licenses could reduce underage drinking and alcohol-related crashes, Maxwell said.

Those who fear electronic tracking should be more concerned about credit card companies, telephone companies, Internet businesses and other corporate entities that already collect, analyze, store and sell vast amounts of personal data, Maxwell said. "To a certain extent, we already have tracking with private-sector data warehouses."

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