U.S. edges closer to national ID card
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U.S. edges closer to national ID card

Knight Ridder Newspapers | January 27, 2005

(KRT) - The government agent quickens his step, eyeing his subject with great suspicion. "Your papers, please," he asks, extending a hand to accept a government-issued identification card.

Surreal? A scene from a movie?

Maybe. And then again. ...

The United States hedged a step closer toward the idea of a national identification card last month when Congress passed the intelligence reform legislation. Tucked into the provisions was a mandate calling for national regulations for driver's licenses and other forms of identification.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who helped craft the legislation, is among those who insist a national ID card is not in the works. Durbin realizes the fear a national ID card ignites.

Some scenerios - government officials being able to note your every move by scanning cards from a distance - sound pretty conspiracy theory. But the technology exists, so such changes should not be undertaken lightly.

The initial problem is that driver's licenses have already gone far beyond their intended use in society. Driving is a privilege. Not a right. That's why people who screw up by driving while drunk, or getting too many speeding tickets, have their license revoked.

And yet, Americans use their licenses to board planes, to open bank accounts, rent cars, to prove who they are in a variety of places and situations. Tinkering too much with driver's licenses, therefore, is the fastest route toward establishing a national identification card.

A not completely crazy fear is what will be done with all the information; some sort of Big Brother national database. At the very least, too many changes should not be adopted unwittingly.

Especially under the misguided premise that making driver's licenses more standard state to state will necessarily protect the country from terrorism.

Sept. 11, 2001. As with so many calls for government reform; this one originated there. The Sept 11 hijackers did use driver's licenses as part of their scheme to move about the country. They clearly took advantage of the ease of movement that is a hallmark of life in America.

They did not however, have 63 driver's licenses among them. Immigrant advocates have thankfully nixed that myth in recent months. The hijackers had 13 licenses among them, many legally obtained. Seven of the 19 hijackers did have driver's licenses they fraudulently obtained. They took advantage of some lax standards in Virginia that have since been rectified.

But the hijackers didn't need the driver's licenses to board the planes. They had foreign passports for that purpose.

The hijackers should have been caught long before they were handed driver's licenses. Attempting to track people after they have been allowed into the country becomes problematic quick.

One of the best defenses against terrorism is closer scrutiny when people first enter the country. That approach also ensures less disruption to U.S.-born citizens, those who have naturalized and legal residents.

Which brings this back around to the idea of making driver's licenses more secure. Some reforms are called for. States widely differ in what documents they require to issue a driver's license. Some states are too lax. The reforms Congress authorized also calls for standardizing security features.

Yet some states are rightly worried that officials will go too far; taking away individual state's rights to decide who can get a license. Also noted is the fact that when governments create a needed document, they also create a black market for that document.

Colorado is fighting that battle now. More than 200 licenses were recently revoked after it was alleged that two state workers charged $2,500 to issue licenses illegally for driving tractor trailers and other large vehicles.

Americans do not need changes in driver's licenses that will ultimately trounce privacy. Especially if the efforts do not make the country one bit safer from terrorism.



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