Biometric driver's licenses raise privacy concerns

While U.S. citizens may never carry a national identification card, they may soon have a biometric feature on their driver's licenses.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, government officials discovered that as many as 10 of the hijackers might have obtained fraudulent driver's licenses in New Jersey or Virginia. This news has resulted in a demand for solutions that can verify both the identity of those applying for licenses and the authenticity of licenses used routinely for personal identification.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has been working since Sept. 11 to strengthen the state driver's license process, arguing that Congress should mandate minimum standards for issuing licenses. The association also wants Congress to provide federal funding for an interstate network for confirming an individual's driving history and to impose stiffer penalties on those committing fraud.

But these proposals have met with strong opposition from Capitol Hill lawmakers concerned about privacy. A battle broke out earlier this year when Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and James Moran, D-Va., introduced the Driver's License Modernization Act of 2002 to improve the licensing process and reduce fraud by using biometric technologies and linking state databases.

The bill was perceived by some as an attempt to establish a central database or a national ID card, something forbidden by subsequent homeland security legislation. The bill's sponsors, put on the defensive, are now trying to explain that the bill does not call for either of these, said David Marin, a spokesman for Davis.

"All we're looking to do is to have the states get together, agree on a biometric and link their databases, so criminals can't jump from one state to another," he said.

Because of the confusion surrounding the bill, action on it this year is doubtful, he said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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