N.Y. opts for hybrid driver's licenses

New York state has reached an agreement with federal authorities to issue enhanced drivers licenses that double as border-crossing cards, Gov. David Paterson announced Tuesday.

New York joins Washington, Vermont and Arizona as the fourth state to have negotiated agreements with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff allowing them to issue a state driver's license that also meets federal requirements for border crossings under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Under the initiative, which goes into effect in June 2009, travelers must show a passport or other approved document to cross the U.S. borders.

The Canadian province of British Columbia also is distributing enhanced driver's licenses, and the Michigan State Legislature approved a bill in March paving the way for a similar agreement with DHS.

Some of the enhanced licenses have been controversial because of privacy concerns. Washington, which was the first state to begin producing the new licenses, includes a radio frequency identification microchip on the licenses. The RFID chips, which can be read wirelessly from 20 feet to 30 feet away, have been criticized for their potential to be scanned without authorization, risking identity theft and loss of privacy.

It is not clear whether New York's licenses will include the RFID chip. Information was not immediately available from a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

New York's former Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced his intention to seek an agreement to produce hybrid licenses with DHS last fall. Spitzer resigned in March.
In New York, enrollment for the enhanced license is voluntary. The new licenses will cost $30 more than regular licenses and are expected to be available by the end of the summer, according to a news release from the governor.

"The development of this license will help to ease long lines at our New York/Canada border crossings, allowing commerce to flow more freely and securely in and out of the state," Paterson said in the release.

Enhanced drivers' licenses have been an active area for federal contractors specializing in identification management, ID cards, RFID, biometrics and reader technologies.

The State and Homeland Security departments also are using RFID chips on the soon-to-be-issued People Access Security Service cards, which U.S. citizens will be able to use in lieu of a passport for border crossings. To address privacy concerns, the RFID chips on those cards will contain a reference number only, which must be matched with a database to obtain personal information.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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