Senate to Give Final Approval To Long-Sought Privacy Protections

October 4, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate is expected today to give final approval to legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union said includes important new protections for drivers' privacy and revokes a plan to transform drivers' licenses into de facto national identification cards.

"Today we scored two points for the average American and Big Brother got zero," said ACLU Legislative Counsel Gregory T. Nojeim. "In one fell swoop, drivers gained additional protections for their personal information and the immediate threat of national ID cards - which has long posed one of the greatest risks to personal privacy in this country - was diminished."

A broad range of groups -- including the ACLU, the Eagle Forum, the Free Congress Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center -- worked together with Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) to secure protections for the privacy of drivers' personal information in the Transportation Appropriations Bill. Another section of the transportation bill repeals a provision of a 1996 immigration law that would have required states to issue drivers licenses that conform to a federal standard, thus creating a de facto national ID card.

The bill was adopted by the House of Representatives last Friday and is expected to pass the Senate today. "Now, drivers will have more control over their personal information," Nojeim said. "No longer can states sell drivers' photographs, Social Security numbers and medical information to junk mailers without driver consent." The provision strengthens the 1994 Drivers Privacy Protection Act, which is being challenged by certain states in the Supreme Court.

Alarmed by government attempts to misuse drivers' information, Sen. Shelby included privacy protection language in this year's federal transportation spending legislation, H.R. 2084. Plans by the states of Florida, South Carolina and Colorado to sell personal data, including the photographic images that 22 million drivers provided with their driver's license applications, were thwarted after a public outcry. Without the consent of drivers, this personal information was to be sold to a New Hampshire company -- partially funded by the Secret Service -- with the goal of creating a national database of photos and personal information.

"Senator Shelby stood like a rock against an intense lobbying campaign by the Direct Marketing Association, which wanted the privacy protections seriously weakened or removed," Nojeim said.

The repealed national ID provision would have also coerced states to put drivers' Social Security numbers on drivers' licenses, thereby facilitating identity theft. The provision was delayed last year through a concerted effort spearheaded by Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) and joined by thousands of citizens who complained to the Transportation Department.

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