While Congress debates, states enact stricter controls over driver's licenses

Twenty-one states have enacted driver's license security legislation this past year, a state legislator told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation's subcommittee on highways and transit Sept. 5.

The states have been "extremely proactive" improving the driver's license issuance process," said Betty Karnette, a California state senator speaking on behalf of the National Council of State Legislators, who shared the group's findings with the subcommittee.

The states have been moving forward at the same time that Congress has been debating whether to create national standards for issuing driver's licenses, but federal efforts have bogged down over privacy concerns.

"States have not been waiting to take action," said Michael Weaver, a Kentucky legislator, speaking on behalf of the Council of State Governments. "They are acting faster than any federal agency could act."

The process of how state governments issue driver's licenses to their residents came under intense scrutiny when it was learned that several states had issued valid driver's licenses to the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Since then a national debate has arisen over the extent to which government should incorporate new security measures into the process, which some argue will endanger the privacy of American citizens who obtain driver's licenses.

Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wis., the subcommittee's chairman, noted 30 states have taken steps to strengthen driver's license issuance procedures but questioned whether the efforts are sufficient.

He said the subcommittee will weigh the success of states' efforts to improve the process, the costs involved with proposed improvements and the privacy implications before deciding whether to take congressional action.

Some officials have proposed that the federal government should issue standards or guidelines that would ensure security and improve information sharing with the federal government and among the 50 states. This would require data sharing through interoperable systems, they said.

These officials also want real-time information sharing between state departments of motor vehicles and federal agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service responsible for screening foreign nationals.

The American Association of State Motor Vehicle Administrators has proposed replicating the Commercial Driver's License Information System that was established to ensure that a commercial driver did not hold a license from another state, which might allow the driver to hide a bad driving record. The system tracks about 10 million commercial driving licenses, according to the group.

A similar system for the nation's 190 million passenger vehicle driver's licenses would cost between $150 million to $250 million, said Roger Cross, administrator of the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles, who spoke on behalf of AAMVA.

If the system included biometrics, the price estimate would increase to about $400 million, he said.

The group's proposal has widespread support from law enforcement and from the banking industry, Cross told Washington Technology.
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Eagle Forum and the Center for Democracy and Technology generally opposed proposals to create national standards and interoperable systems.

All witnesses agreed that the screening of foreign nationals is the responsibility of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and not state or local government.

"Many of these issues are beyond the four walls of the DMV," said Katie Corrigin, legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, referring to the issues raised in the hearing.

About the Author

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

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