Federal bill would require biometric driver's licenses within five years

Two Virginia congressmen have proposed a $315 million program that would require biometric markers on all states' driver's licenses within five years, according to federal legislation the pair filed yesterday.

Reps. Jim Moran, a Democrat, and Tom Davis, a Republican, want a driver's license to carry the driver's retinal scan, fingerprint or some other kind of biometric marker within an encrypted chip in the license.

Critics charged that the legislators are trying to evade popular opposition to a national ID card by creating what would in a sense be a national driver's license.

Moran spokesman Dan Drummond rejected that argument, which is being spearheaded by the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union.

"The ACLU's claim of an end run is false and incorrect and totally out of line," Drummond said.

Drummond said the card would actually help protect the privacy of the U.S. public by moving people away from the use of Social Security numbers for identification. Once a criminal gets a person's Social Security number, a host of information about the individual can be stolen.

Using a biometric identifier in an encrypted chip would make it much harder for criminals to steal people's identities, Drummond said.

The ACLU said its spokeswoman on this subject was unavailable this morning. However, it has detailed its opposition to similar efforts in the past. The group has said that an ID card with a national reach could lead to abuses by the government, including becoming a means to track residents and restrict internal movement in the U.S., as well as lead to racial and ethnic profiling by government agencies.

Drummond dismissed most of those charges and said the card wouldn't be linked to a federal database. The states would share data under the Moran and Davis proposal but that data wouldn't be sent to the federal level.

Other details of the Moran and Davis bill include:

  • Forcing states to use tougher criteria for individuals to prove their identity when applying for a driver's license.
  • Strengthening federal identity theft laws by making it a federal crime to alter a license even if the license isn't transported across state lines.

According to a statement by Moran, at least eight of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were able to easily obtain licenses.

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