- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

The government is taking first steps with the states to develop driver's licenses that can electronically store information such as fingerprints for the 184 million Americans who carry the cards.
Privacy experts fear the effort may lead to de facto national identification cards that would allow authorities to track citizens electronically, circumventing the intense debate about federal ID cards.
Supporters said it was predictable after September 11, and after a briefly raucous debate about U.S. identity cards, that officials would turn to improving existing identification systems. With careful use, they say, these new licenses could alert authorities if a suspected terrorist attempted to board an airliner, withdraw cash or enter the country.
The Transportation Department, 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 California could be verified and recorded using equipment even in Texas or Florida.
In a report accompanying the funding legislation, Congress told the department it would "strongly encourage" officials there to develop guides quickly with the states for electronically storing information on licenses. "This could benefit the nation's efforts to improve security," lawmakers wrote, adding it could cut down on financial fraud and underage drinking.
Transportation officials told the Associated Press this week that the department's new security administration probably will take charge of the project, still in its early stages. Already, 37 states store information on licenses electronically.
"What you're seeing here is sort of a hardening of the driver's license that could lead to development of a national ID system without creating a national ID card," said Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"If they start scanning these things, they can track where I go," said Richard M. Smith, former chief technology officer for the Privacy Foundation in Denver.
"If we do this, come up with a national standard, there's no difference between a driver's license and a national ID card."

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