Operations

National Driver’s License May Be in the Cards

LCT Staff
Posted on November 3, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, the House and Senate are moving toward setting rules for states that would standardize documentation required to get a driver's license and the data the license would have to contain.

Critics say the plan would create a national identification card. But advocates say it would make it harder for terrorists to operate and would reduce the highway death toll by helping identify applicants whose licenses had been revoked in other states.

The Senate version of the intelligence bill includes an amendment passed by unanimous consent Oct. 1, that would let the secretary of Homeland Security decide what documents a state would need to require issuing a driver's license. It also would specify the data needed to meet federal standards.

The secretary could require licenses to include fingerprints or eye prints.

The provision would allow the Department of Homeland Security to require use of the license or an equivalent card issued by a motor vehicle bureau to non-drivers for identification purposes and to access planes, trains and other transportation.

The bill does not give the department the authority to force states to meet federal standards, but would create pressure for them to do so. After a transition period, the department could require airports to accept as identification only those licenses issued under federal rules.

The House's version of the intelligence bill, already passed, would require the states to keep all driver's license information in a linked database for quick access. It also calls for "an integrated network of screening points that includes the nation's border security system, transportation system and critical infrastructure facilities that the secretary determines need to be protected against terrorist attack."

The two versions will go to a House-Senate conference committee.

Some civil liberties advocates are horrified by the proposal.

"I think it means we're going to end up with a police state, essentially, by allowing the secretary of Homeland Security to designate the sensitive areas and allowing this integrated screening system," said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

If the requirement to show the identification card can be applied to any mode of transportation, he said, that could eventually include subways or highways, and would "require you to have some national ID card, essentially, in order to go from point A to point B."

A Senate aide who was involved in drafting the bipartisan language of the amendment said that in choosing where to establish a checkpoint, the provision "does not give the secretary of Homeland Security any new authority."

The aide said it would not create a national identification card.

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