Thursday, October 7, 2004

Proposed federal standards for new driver’s licenses contained in the intelligence-reform bill moving through Congress creates a national identification card, according to civil liberties groups on both sides of the aisle.

The Senate passed its intelligence-reform bill yesterday by a 96-2 vote, and the House is expected to vote on its version by the end of the week.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and one of the amendment’s sponsors, defended the legislation that was quietly added Friday. However, he said the provision still needs work, which could be completed when both bills are hammered out in conference committee.

“I think it’s a good amendment, and it deserves a lot of discussion, but it needs the administration’s input,” Mr. McCain said.

Asked if the bill would create a national identification card, Mr. McCain said, “I don’t think so, that’s not really what I was trying to do, but I thought it was a good amendment.”

Opponents say, however, the House provision goes a step further and creates a tri-national identification card by requiring states to create and share databases among themselves and with Mexico and Canada.

“A lot of conservatives are concerned about this idea,” said James Plummer, policy director for Consumer Alert, a free-market advocacy group.

The American Civil Liberties Union is also lobbying against the House and Senate measures, and agrees the lower body’s attempt to share information across borders is a dangerous precedent.

“They are setting the gold standard for what is an acceptable identification document,” said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the ACLU. “By sharing and putting all of this data together, essentially what you are going to end up with is a national identification card.”

The section pertaining to driver’s licenses forbids federal agencies from recognizing current licenses that do not meet the new standards two years after the law takes effect.

The new standards would be set by the Homeland Security and Transportation departments, and would include what proof of identity applicants will be required to show to obtain a license. The federal standards are a “back door” for licenses to become the de facto national identification cards, Mr. Johnson said.

Licenses must meet the new standards or face rejection by federal officials, who require that licenses be shown to fly on commercial aircraft.

More than 30 advocacy, civil liberties and conservative groups sent letters to every senator Sept. 20 predicting that the September 11 commission report would lead to a national ID card and asked that it be rejected.

Opponents say such a card would not prevent terrorism, and would instead be an expensive program that directs resources away from more effective counterterrorism measures. The estimated costs for the program range widely, with one at $4 billion and another at between $25 billion and $30 billion.

“The creation of a national ID card or system is a misplaced, superficial quick fix to the terrorist threat,” the letter says. “A national ID system would not effectively deter terrorists and, instead, would pose serious threats to the rights of freedom and equality of everyone in the U.S.”

• Brian DeBose contributed to this report

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