Licenses could include encoded personal data

| Thursday, January 10, 2002

The U.S. government is taking first steps with states to develop driver's licenses that can electronically store information - such as fingerprints. Privacy experts fear that including encoded personal data on identification cards would circumvent the intense debate about federal ID cards.

Supporters claim that with careful use, these new licenses could alert authorities if a suspected terrorist attempted to purchase an airline ticket, withdraw cash or enter the country.

The Department of Transportation, 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 one state could be verified and recorded using equipment in another state.

The DOT's new security administration is the likely choice to take charge of the project, according to published reports. Already, 37 states store information on licenses electronically.

"If they start scanning (ID cards), they can track where I go," Richard M. Smith, former chief technology officer for the Privacy Foundation of Denver, told news reporters. Smith is fearful that if the government adopts a national standard, there's no difference between a driver's license and a national ID card.

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