Congress Close to Establishing Rules for Driver's Licenses

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Mon Oct 11 21:48:45 EDT 2004


The New York Times

October 11, 2004

Congress Close to Establishing Rules for Driver's Licenses

ASHINGTON, Oct. 10 - Following a recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission,
the House and Senate are moving toward setting rules for the states that
would standardize the documentation required to obtain a driver's license,
and the data the license would have to contain.

 Critics say the plan would create a national identification card. But
advocates say it would make it harder for terrorists to operate, as well as
reduce the highway death toll by helping states identify applicants whose
licenses had been revoked in other states.

The Senate version of the intelligence bill includes an amendment, passed
by unanimous consent on Oct. 1, that would let the secretary of homeland
security decide what documents a state would have to require before issuing
a driver's license, and would also specify the data that the license would
have to include for it to meet federal standards. The secretary could
require the license to include fingerprints or eye prints. The provision
would allow the Homeland Security Department to require use of the license,
or an equivalent card issued by motor vehicle bureaus to nondrivers for
identification purposes, for access to planes, trains and other modes of

The bill does not give the department the authority to force the states to
meet the federal standards, but it would create enormous pressure on them
to do so. After a transition period, the department could decide to accept
only licenses issued under the rules as identification at airports.

 The House's version of the intelligence bill, passed Friday, would require
the states to keep all driver's license information in a linked database,
for quick access. It also calls for "an integrated network of screening
points that includes the nation's border security system, transportation
system and critical infrastructure facilities that the secretary determines
need to be protected against terrorist attack."

 The two versions will go to a House-Senate conference committee.

 Some civil liberties advocates say they are horrified by the proposal.

"I think it means we're going to end up with a police state, essentially,
by allowing the secretary of homeland security to designate the sensitive
areas and allowing this integrating screening system," said Marv Johnson,
the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. If the
requirement to show the identification card can be applied to any mode of
transportation, he said, that could eventually include subways or highways,
and the result would be "to require you to have some national ID card,
essentially, in order to go from point A to point B."

James C. Plummer Jr., a policy analyst at Consumer Alert, a nonprofit
organization based here, said, "You're looking at a system of internal
passports, basically."

But a Senate aide who was involved in drafting the bipartisan language of
the amendment said that in choosing where to establish a checkpoint, the
provision "does not give the secretary of homeland security any new

The aide, who asked not to be identified because of his involvement in
drafting the measure, said it would not create a national identification
card but would standardize a form of identification routinely issued by

 Representative Candice S. Miller, the Michigan Republican who drafted the
license section of the House measure, said, "I don't think this is anything
that should cause anyone concern."

Of the 50 states, 48 are members of interstate compacts that exchange
information on moving violations, so that a driver from, say, Maryland, who
picks up a speeding ticket in Florida will accumulate points in his home
state. But Michigan and Wisconsin are not members of a compact. Ms. Miller
said one purpose of the provision she wrote was to fix that problem.

 A spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrations,
which represents the state officials who issue driver's licenses, said
linking the databases and strengthening control over who could get a
license was long overdue. "The American public should be outraged to know
that departments of motor vehicles nationwide lack the capability to do the
jobs we've asked them to do," said the spokesman, Jason King.

In both houses, the legislation is geared to respond to numerous
recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission. For years before the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement officials, especially
those concerned with identity theft, argued that the states should have
more rigorous standards for issuing driver's licenses. But the commission
pointed out that "fraud in identification documents is no longer just a
problem of theft."

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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