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Driver's Licenses Flawed as National ID Cards

September 28, 2002

In his Sept. 23 commentary, "Treat Driver's Licenses as What They Are: Domestic Passports," Amitai Etzioni freely admits that in his ideal world our driver's licenses would serve as a national identification card. His candor is admirable. His logic is not. Etzioni passes over the obvious: Do Americans really trust their departments of motor vehicles to run a complex national ID program--keeping our most sensitive information secure from information pirates and free from bureaucratic error? And will his driver's-license-as-national-ID actually make us any safer? Won't the whole system be built on a house of phony cards?

Consider the ease with which the Sept. 11 hijackers and other identity thieves were--and are--able to obtain phony IDs and the "breeder documents" (birth certificates, earlier state driver's licenses, Social Security cards) that would be the basis for "proving" identity before the card is issued. Meanwhile, a national ID would lead to widespread discrimination against persons of color, who will be constantly asked, "Your papers, please." And it would require the creation of a complex web of privacy-robbing databases. When the stark dangers of national IDs are balanced against their illusory security benefits, it is hard to see their point.

Barry Steinhardt

Director Liberty and Technology Project American Civil Liberties Union

Washington

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There's a much easier and less costly way for the federal government to upgrade all the state-run driver's license systems into a coherent national identity system: We can build on the existing Social Security database.

The advantage of using Social Security numbers is that there is already a well-established national standard in place, and their use is widespread among almost all American citizens from an early age--and most legal aliens. By contrast, driver's licenses are issued later in life and, in some instances, not issued at all.

Given the extensive use of Social Security numbers as unique identifiers for important activities like retirement distributions, tax filing, credit applications and student financial aid, the system already possesses the standards and integrity required to form the backbone for a new national ID.

Kevin Feldman

Los Angeles

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