- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

The other day, the director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles testified before a D.C. Council committee on the goings-on in her agency. Her seven-page testimony mostly addressed the improvements made at DMV, and deserved credit. But girl wonder Sherryl Hobbs Newman's testimony was nonetheless deceptive. And, frankly, I want to see if you people are paying attention. So here goes.
Some of the back-and-forth between Mrs. Newman and Carol Schwartz, chairman of the council's public works panel, focused on why Mrs. Newman had not informed Mrs. Schwartz about the new D.C. license plates that will not have raised letters. However, a great deal of the discussion revolved around DMV's new computer system called Destiny, which goes on line in April after field tests next month. To be sure, the system is much-needed. DMV's systems were so fractured that there was no one facility where motorists could take care of all their driving-related business. Also, the new technology will notify us when our inspection stickers expire and the like. So, in a sense, Destiny might mean less frustration.
On the other hand, it will definitely mean less privacy. Destiny will, for example, "keep track of all activity on a resident in one location," and it will "interface with various agencies for added security." Re-read that carefully. Track "all activity." "Added security." Now pose the obvious questions.
I warned you about this ill-fated date with Destiny in a column last summer titled "Apartheid on the Potomac," which laid out the frightening similarities between what the District proposes to do via its computerized snooping and what the Nazis did to Jews, and the Apartheid government did to black South Africans. Allow me to reiterate. Mrs. Newman is also the brainchild behind the District's proposed ID registry. This registry would force children up to age 16 or so to walk around with Apartheid-like passbook ID cards that would include not only their vital statistics, but their parents' personal data as well. Once Destiny is fully implemented, its database possibilities would be endless and highly intrusive and easily accessible. Because it interfaces with other agencies, all a city employee would have to do is hit the right keys on a keyboard and toy with a mouse to find out your marital status, your creditworthiness, your tax standing, your criminal background.
"There will be so many small and big things that this system will do for us, many of which our customers will never even realize," the girl wonder testified.
See, there she goes again. "Our customers will never even realize." Doesn't that bother you at all? Doesn't that frighten you in the least?
Now, let's take a step back, for a moment, and look at the big picture, because I don't want you to take this as some minuscule, right wing conspiracy to get Sherryl Hobbs Newman. This is not about Sherryl Hobbs Newman. This is about a plan by government to spend our tax dollars on a computer system whose users will be permitted, at will, to pry on any taxpayer who lives in the District or has a child in a D.C. school. The government, after all, is nosier than the media.
Having said that, let's suppose, just suppose, one of Destiny's users has a personal ax to grind with a D.C. motorist. And let's give each of them a name, so we can get an even better picture. We'll call the D.C. official Gwen and the D.C. motorist Tod. Now, Gwen is angry at Tod because Tod, like Gwen, is in a position of power, and he frequently and publicly speaks out against her policies. So Gwen does a little spying and finds out that Tod owes parking tickets and decides to dispatch ticket-writers. Then, having done the deed, she kicks back, clicks her mouse some hours later and quietly says to herself, "gotcha."
Consider another possibility. Tod likes Gwen really likes Gwen so he expunges her tickets from the computer system.
Some folks in-the-know said Mrs. Newman wants to use these IDs to help missing and exploited children. While that might sound like a noble idea, it is a naive one as well.
But back to me and you. You know what I think. What do you think? Do you think this monster of an database will be used against, I mean, for D.C. residents alone? Or do you think Destiny is just one more tool in this technology-driven world of ours to help simplify our lives?
You people who are unconcerned needn't say a peep or do a thing, of course, other than to say, "There Deborah goes again." It wouldn't faze me. I'm a big girl. I can take as good as I give. (Just ask Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who reamed me out for what I wrote earlier.)
But you people who complain to me and this newspaper all the time about our loss of civil liberties and invasion of privacy, and Big Brother and red tape in general, and the D.C. DMV in particular, don't you dare call, or write and e-mail to even attempt a grovel later. I won't want to hear it.
Feel free to write a letter to the editor ([email protected]), though, and, by all means, call Mrs. Newman's public information officer (202-727-5390) and Mrs. Schwartz a Republican, sigh (202-724-8000). I just hope it's not too late.

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