- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

RICHMOND Virginians would have their thumbprint or a strip of DNA on their driver’s license under legislation proposed in the General Assembly.

The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. John Watkins, would require that everyone who applies for a driver’s license submit either a thumbprint “or other biometric identifier,” which could be an iris scan, a DNA sample or a facial-recognition scan.

“It’s not intended as an element of Big Brother,” said Mr. Watkins, Midlothian Republican. “I think it’s an idea whose time has come.”

Mr. Watkins’ bill and others like it come in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the discovery that five of the 19 hijackers were able to get phony Virginia state identification cards because of lax documentation requirements.

Mr. Watkins said his bill, which has been referred from the Senate Transportation Committee to a subcommittee to deal with September 11-related legislation, “would sure help” in closing loopholes in licensing procedures that make it easier for criminals to commit identity fraud.

“[Criminals] can’t forge a thumbprint; they can’t forge a DNA strip; they can’t forge an iris,” he said.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which represents motor vehicle departments across the United States and Canada, is currently working with the Justice Department and the General Services Administration to link states’ driver’s license databases and require that high-tech identifiers such as thumbprints be included on licenses.

Similar legislation has also been introduced. A bill by Thomas K. Norment Jr., Williamsburg Republican, would require anyone applying for a driver’s license to provide a thumbprint that would be stored in a digital database. Delegate Thomas M. Bolvin, Fairfax Republican, filed a bill that would require only noncitizens to register their thumbprint.

Currently, four states California, Colorado, Texas and Georgia require some sort of thumbprint registration when a person applies for a driver’s license. Virginia would be the first state to put the information on the driver’s license itself.

Mr. Bolvin said his bill gives the government information about noncitizens that it already has about American citizens.

“For the legal aliens, there is not much information,” Mr. Bolvin said, adding that Mr. Watkins’ bill “seems a little too Big Brother.”

“We don’t have to use [the technology] just because we can,” Mr. Bolvin said.

A measure introduced by H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, would require drivers who don’t have their license when police request it to give a fingerprint.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he has serious reservations about Mr. Watkins’ bill and others like it.

Most troubling to Mr. Willis was the prospect of using other biometric identifiers on driver’s licenses.

“The taking of the fingerprint does not require taking part of your body,” Mr. Willis said. “[DNA strips, iris scans, etc.] are far more invasive because they require knowing something about your interior.”

Virginia Gov.-elect Mark R. Warner will sign an executive order this morning after being sworn in that creates an economic crisis task force modeled after the federal government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides assistance to victims of natural disasters and other calamities. As part of the task force, Mr. Warner’s new Cabinet secretaries will appoint individuals to go to areas of the state hit by economic hardship and provide assistance, such as loan options, health care and worker training.

Gov.-elect Mark R. Warner told a group of about 600 black leaders yesterday that he will push legislation that bans racial profiling despite a lack of statistical data to support the idea. Mr. Warner, a Democrat who will be sworn in today as the state’s 69th governor, told the group commemorating the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he wants the state to be more receptive to the concerns of minorities.

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