ACLU Calls Standardized Drivers' Licenses Plan De Facto National ID; Says Licensing Scheme Ineffective, Expensive, Un-American

January 14, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress and the Administration to reject any proposal that would turn the drivers’ licensing systems of the 50 separate states into a de facto national ID.

“The nationwide standardization of drivers’ licenses is just a national ID by another name,” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “And just like other national ID proposals, this would be ineffective in the fight against terrorism and represent a dangerous threat to our freedoms.”

Corrigan’s comments came in response to the release today of a report by an American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) task force that recommended the establishment of nation-wide uniformity in the design and content of drivers licenses as well as the tight linking of state licensing databases – information banks that contain sensitive personal data.

The ACLU said that the implementation of such a plan would create a de facto national ID through the back door, circumventing necessary public and legislative debate and threatening to bolster a surveillance society not in line with basic American privacy rights and civil liberties. Such a system should not be foisted on the American public simply through state bureaucratic maneuvering, absent of all but the most basic public accountability, the ACLU said.

The ACLU and other privacy advocates from across the ideological spectrum have been highly critical in the past of other national ID proposals, arguing that a national ID would be of little use in domestic anti-terrorism efforts because terrorists would be able to easily obtain false documentation on which to base their application for an ID card. Other critics have blanched at the extraordinary expense of the system; some national ID plans could have a price tag estimated at $4 billion or more. The AAMVA proposal specifically requests $100 million, a figure that the ACLU said could easily balloon further as the administrative and bureaucratic costs of implementing a giant, nation-wide ID card system are realized.

“This backdoor National ID would require a massive national database of highly sensitive information available to every DMV in the country,” said Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the ACLU. “I, for one, do not believe that Americans trust their local DMV to keep many of the most intimate details of their lives, safe, secure and free of error.”

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