States object to federal driver's license database

| 2/6/2007

By Monday, Jan. 5, the number of states with legislation or resolutions proposing amendments to or total opposition of the Real ID act had grown to about 24 and was accelerating "by the hour," said Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, DC.

"I think people are finally getting that this thing is real, is incredibly costly and if they don't act now they're going to get saddled with the burden," Sparapani told Land Line Magazine.

The Real ID Act of 2005 requires states to have uniform requirements for their driver's licenses and other state-issued identification cards, as well as linking a database of each state's ID holders. The cards would have a computer chip or similar technology that could be read by computers, which could be used to download personal information about an individual.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates the Real ID program will cost states between $11 billion and $20 billion though no one has determined where those dollars will come from, said Matt Sundeen, a transportation analyst with the organization.

"This is the most recent unfunded mandate from the federal government and states are reacting to that," Sundeen said. "And a lot of state legislators are concerned that this is more big brother watching them."

The ACLU believes the Real ID program's intent to create a database of all American drivers combined with the Department of Transportation's plans to add RFID chip readers to major highways and intersections "puts us all at risk," Sparapani said.

Truckers and four-wheelers alike could be tracked throughout their daily travels "almost in real-time," Sparapani said.

The cards' readability could be used by private companies as well, Sparapani said, which could scan driver's licenses when shoppers enter stores or pay for goods and later sell the information to a data collection service for marketing purposes.

The database will contain biometric data and will be accessible by the millions of U.S. employees that work in government offices, police stations and driver's license bureaus, Sparapani said.

If an identity theft swindled or bribed a worker at a DMV office, they could have a Real ID made with their picture and fingerprint and someone else's name.

"We've never seen anything like this," Sparapani said. "This act makes us weaker, not safer, from terror and crime because it makes all our personal information accessible in a single place."

 Cards with fingerprints, digital photos and other information that could be read by computers and stored in databases could be misused, said Missouri Rep. Jim Guest in an interview with "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio.

"I think the fact that they're maintaining a database - that's an invasion into our private lives and it's a major step toward taking away some of the freedoms we've enjoyed in this country," Guest said. "The likelihood of theft becomes very easy to come about, then."

- By Charlie Morasch, staff writer