The Boston Globe
Monday, January 14, 2002
All 50 states agree to upgrade driver's licenses
Seeking to improve security features
By Ross Kerber
Officials from all 50 states have agreed to cooperate on upgrading driver's license security features, giving momentum to efforts to turn the licenses into de facto national identity cards.
The state officials may also seek $70 million or more in federal funds to study issues like how they might include data such as fingerprints or digital photographs on the driver's licenses, which are carried by more than 200 million Americans.
The goal is to improve security following the attacks of Sept. 11, according to a spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which is scheduled to announce the plans today in Washington. At least several of the terrorists who struck on that day are believed to have fraudulently obtained licenses in Virginia and other states known for their weak license controls.
In response, some have called for the creation of a formal national identity card system. But that would be an expensive undertaking and is opposed by many who fear it would dangerously centralize too much personal information.
The proposed upgrades to the state licenses are seen as an intermediate step, and haven't drawn nearly as much criticism. In fact, some analysts say the changes are long overdue as licenses have become necessary for all sorts of daily activities, from opening a bank account to boarding an airplane.
By failing to check whether they were issuing licenses to valid recipients, many state bureaucracies "have failed miserably, decade after decade," said Shane Ham, senior analyst at the Progressive Policy Institute.
In addition to forging the consensus for security upgrades, the state administrator's group, known as AAMVA, has also formed a task force to consider technical coordination issues. These include how driver's license databases from different states could be linked with law-enforcement agencies, and how to prevent people from
fraudulently obtaining licenses with false or foreign documents.
These efforts will follow a campaign already begun by AAMVA to promote technical standards for the bar codes and magnetic strips on many state licenses so they could be scanned in any jurisdiction. Presently these vary widely. Some states including Massachusetts use two-dimension bar codes that can store thumbnail-size personal photos; a few are considering "smart cards" that would store information on computer chips. But others states like Vermont don't require driver's licenses to include a photograph at all.
Officials say they must also train license issuers to recognize false documents that might be used to fraudulently obtain a valid ID. "This isn't as glamorous as the high-tech stuff," said John Munday, president of Bedford-based Digimarc ID Systems, the largest license-production contractor. "But it's a key piece if you're going to stop identity fraud."
Munday's business was previously owned by Polaroid Corp.; his company and its main competitor, Littleton-based Viisage Technology Inc., stand to benefit from more spending in the area. Other beneficiaries could include integration companies like EDS Corp. or database producer Oracle Corp., whose chief executive, Larry Ellison, has been a strong proponent of linking digital information systems with data-rich ID cards.
Steve Perkins, who heads Oracle's public sector business in Reston, Va., said many of these ideas were feasible before, but had little funding. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, he said, "there's now a political will. Before, there was never enough money to go beyond what your specific mission was" on a given government contract.
An AAMVA spokesman, Jason King, said the agency hasn't yet determined from which agency it will seek the research funding. King said he didn't know whether any federal agencies would endorse its plans, as they have been invited to do.
The Bush administration's homeland-security director, Tom Ridge, in the past has dismissed the need for national identity cards. Last week, representatives from his office, the FBI, and the Justice Department, said officials weren't available to discuss AAMVA's ambitions.
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The Boston Herald
Saturday, January 12, 2002
A Boston Herald editorial
Toward a uniform license
An agency representing state licensing authorities is urging more uniformity in drivers' licenses. And as an alternative to a national identification card, this proposal has merit.
Drivers licenses are currently carried by more than 90 percent of adult Americans. With 50 agencies issuing them, and states changing designs every few years, it's estimated that there are more than 200 license formats circulating in the United States.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is working on a plan to bring more uniformity to the cards and minimum standards for verifying the information on them. The group also wants to institute use of bar codes and biometric technologies (like digital fingerprints) to make licenses more secure and the data more easily shared among agencies.
These proposals would take several years to implement and may require authorization from Congress, but it's an effort worth making.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2002
WASHINGTON - The government is taking first steps with the states to develop drivers' licenses that can electronically store information - such as fingerprints - for the 184 million Americans who carry the cards.
Privacy experts fear the effort may lead to de facto national identification cards that would allow authorities to track citizens electronically, circumventing the intense debate over federal ID cards.
Supporters said it was predictable after Sept. 11, and after a briefly raucous debate over U.S. identity cards, that officials would turn to improving existing identification systems. With careful use, they say, these new licenses could alert authorities if a suspected terrorist attempted to board an airliner, withdraw cash or enter the country.
The Transportation Department, under instructions from Congress, is expected to develop rules for states to encode data onto driver's licenses to prevent criminals from using them as false identification. Under a new national standard, a license from California could be verified and recorded using equipment even in Texas or Florida.
In a report accompanying the funding legislation, Congress told the department it would "strongly encourage" officials there to develop guides quickly with the states for electronically storing information on licenses. "This could benefit the nation's efforts to improve security," lawmakers wrote, adding it could also cut down on financial fraud and underage drinking.
Transportation officials told The Associated Press this week the department's new security administration probably will take charge of the project, still in its early stages. Already, 37 states store information on licenses electronically - often using bar codes or a magnetic stripe - though none yet are known to include fingerprints or imprints of retinal- or facial-scans.
"What you're seeing here is sort of a hardening of the driver's license that could lead to development of a national ID system without creating a national ID card," said Marc Rotenberg of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"If they start scanning these things, they can track where I go," said Richard M. Smith, former chief technology officer for the Privacy Foundation, an advocacy organization in Denver. "If we do this, come up with a national standard, there's no difference between a driver's license and a national ID card."
Nathan Root, standards director for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said, "When you look at the expense of improving what we have already versus implementing a new national ID document, the hassle and expense just don't compare." He said, "It would be a better idea just to work with what we have."
The association, based in Arlington, Va., has already developed detailed guides for storing information on licenses.
Its current rules do not require states to include biometric data, such as fingerprints or retinal scans, but that could change.
The association represents all the state motor vehicle agencies in the United States and Canada, and counts as associate members the U.S. government and Mexico.
Privacy experts said a broadly adopted new standard for machines to check state ID cards could allow authorities easily to track citizens nationwide, using a state license everyone is already accustomed to carrying.
"The debate after Sept. 11 showed that Americans are instinctively suspicious of a single federally issued card, but they might be more sympathetic to identifications issued by businesses or perhaps states," said Jeffrey A. Rosen, a privacy expert.
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The Washington Post
Saturday, November 3, 2001
States Devising Plan
for High-Tech National Identification Cards
By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
State motor vehicle authorities are working on a plan to create a national identification system for individuals that would link all driver databases and employ high-tech cards with a fingerprint, computer chip or other unique identifier.
The effort by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which would take several years to implement if approved by state and federal authorities, follows disclosures that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used false identities or obtained driver's licenses fraudulently.
Association leaders assertedat a meeting last week that driver's licenses "have become the 'de facto' national identification card used by law enforcement, retailers, banks and other establishments requiring proof of identification."
The group pledged to work closely with the new Office of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and federal authorities. The motor vehicle officials have proposed standardizing the driver's license process and linking databases before, but on a voluntary basis.
The new proposal would seek to make such changes mandatory, an official said.
Under the proposal, every state would continue to issue driver IDs. But every license and non-driver identity card would contain the same basic information and a similar set of security features to prevent tampering and fraud, association officials said yesterday.
"There's no need to create a new national ID card," said Jason King, the group's spokesman. "Let's just make what we have better."
The idea of a national ID card arouses fierce opposition among civil libertarians, both conservative and liberal, who believe a card would be used by government authorities to track individuals without their permission.
But public sentiment shifted after the terror attacks. One survey found that 70 percent of those questioned favored requiring citizens to carry a national identification card of the sort used in other countries.
The supporters do not include President Bush, who, an aide said, is not seriously considering the creation of such a card. But some lawmakers, technology specialists and others have begun promoting the idea as a way to identify terrorists and cut down on identity crimes.
Rep. George W. Gekas (R-Pa.), head of the House subcommittee on immigration and claims, opposes a national ID. But since the attacks, he believes that "members of Congress just can't throw the idea out without giving it some consideration," a spokesman said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's panel on technology, terrorism and government information, also has expressed interest in a national ID card.
Yesterday she announced the introduction of legislation that would require foreign nationals to use high-tech visa cards containing a fingerprint, retinal scan or other unique identifier. It also would create a centralized "lookout database" containing information about known terrorists and other U.S. visitors deemed threatening.
Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle Corp., the world's largest database software maker, said last month that he would donate software to make it possible for the government to create a national ID card system to improve airport security.
Civil liberties activists said such a system would be costly and difficult to implement and would greatly ease the tracking of innocent citizens by creating a single identifier.
"It will be easier for companies and governments to track people. The question is, do we want that?" asked Robert Gellman, an attorney and privacy specialist in the District. "Will it really help in the fight against terrorism?"
Security specialists warn that technical hurdles to creating such a system are enormous. Once created, such IDs likely would be widely used to collect information about individuals, they said, and the databases containing that information might become targets of hackers.
"There are lots of flaws in software. It may create a false sense of security," said David Banisar, a research fellow at the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project. "There are all sorts of practical questions at the get-go."
Officials with the motor vehicle administrators organization said they understand the concerns about civil liberties. But they said the recent attacks -- and loopholes in the security of state driver ID systems -- demonstrate the need for changes.
Four of the hijackers who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon exploited a legal loophole to obtain Virginia driver's licenses, though they did not live in the state. Under Virginia law, drivers had only to present a notarized residency form, cosigned by a state resident, and a notarized identity form cosigned by a lawyer.
In an Oct. 1 letter, the association president, Linda R. Lewis, asked that the General Accounting Office consider a study of the benefits of using "national databases maintained by motor vehicle agencies in the fight against terrorists and the enhancement of homeland security."
Lewis said the current system for issuing and tracking driver's licenses needs to be improved. "We've got to do something. The system isn't working as well as it should," she said. "The times have shown national security has got to be paramount."
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Business and Society
Let's not O.D. on I.D.
by Robert Ellis Smith
In the past sixty years, the instincts of the American people have been right about the matter
of mandatory enumeration. When the Social Security system was established, there were
intense debates about the possibility that the Social Security number could become a
de facto national identifier. (Legislators promised this would never happen.) Americans at that
time [1934-35] were aware of the abuses in Nazi Germany.
In spite of constant concern about crime, fraud, and illicit dealing, the American people are
still wary of a national identity document. An opinion survey by Louis Harris last year 
found that 56 percent of those questioned opposed the idea of a national work
identification card to distinguish illegal aliens, resident aliens, and citizens.
Older people who remember the Nazi experience are probably more wary of enumeration
than younger people who have grown up with plastic cards, multidigit numbers, and
PIN codes...[A poll conducted in 1994 alleged -- for the first time -- that a majority of Americans
favor a national identification card.]
...Politicians sense this strain in the American character,
and not one has endorsed the idea of a national identity document [Ed.
Until President Clinton in 1994 proposed the National Health Security Identification
Card]. Bureaucrats sense this opposition as well, and so, being bureaucrats,
they press not for a national identification (ID) number immediately but for
authority to enumerate only their own constituency, to serve their narrow needs -- without
regard to the cumulative impact of these gradual intrusions on the citzenry as a whole.
"A national ID card," they say, "would be used only for
employers to establish citizenship. It would not be used to cash checks. Police could not require you to produce it on
the street. We'll make sure by legislation." But is it realistic to expect that such a policy would remain
And so the nightmare of a national ID number is upon us
because of a series of small bureaucratic baby steps, not as the result of deliberate national decision.
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