Licenses not only ID concern

The news that The Department of Homeland Security has given six states and territories (including us, Washington state) two more years to comply with federal requirements for driver licenses has renewed concerns that what the federal government really wants to do is establish a national identification card.

Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico and the territory of American Samoa are the others out of compliance with the Real ID Act of 2005; 23 states are compliant and 27 states and territories have been granted extensions.

To comply, states must include anti-counterfeit technology in its driving licenses, verify an applicant’s identity and conduct background checks for employees involved in issuing driver’s licenses. These changes will eventually allow users’ information to be shared more easily in a national database, The New York Times reported, which has led privacy experts, civil liberty organizations and libertarian groups to fear that the law will lead to something like a national identification card. The government says that’s not true, and that there is no federal database of driver information.

Since it’s difficult to argue against any of the main requirements — anti-counterfeit technology, verifying an applicant’s identity, and conducting background checks for employees involved in issuing licenses — some states have made upgrades, but concerned with the Real ID part of the equation, made them so they specifically don’t work with the national system. For example, on Thursday, Montana’s Attorney General Tim Fox said that enhanced security measures included in the state’s new driver’s licenses are not meant to comply with federal standards that threaten to create an “Orwellian national ID system,” The Washington Times reported.

States can’t be forced to comply, The New York Times reported, but the government can encourage change by doing other things, such as requiring that visitors to military bases, nuclear plants and federal facilities produce a driver’s license from a state that complies with the law, or show another form of government ID, like a passport. All of which the government did in October. But the biggest scare was the threat that the non-compliant licenses wouldn’t be accepted by TSA at airports as ID. After getting everyone’s attention, the threat was rescinded and the two-year extension given. Washington needs to come up with a workable model; perhaps Montana’s anti-Orwellian licenses could be acceptable here, balancing needed security improvements with built-in privacy against the feds.

And now that privacy experts, civil liberty organizations and libertarian groups are all abuzz about the prospect of a national identification card, perhaps they can address the abuse of our Social Security card numbers, which come closer to a national ID card than our licenses. The cards were never meant to be used as identification, as Credit.com reports, “but were made to track how much money people made to figure out benefit levels. The numbers only started being used for identification in the 1960s when the first big computers made that doable. They were first used to identify federal employees in 1961, and then a year later the IRS adopted the method. Banks and other institutions followed suit. And the rest is history.”

Social Security numbers are a hacker’s paradise, with a recent history of huge breaches and theft. Fraud is beyond rampant. From April 2011 through the fourth quarter of 2014, the IRS stopped 19 million suspicious tax returns and protected more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. Still, $5.8 billion in tax refunds were paid out to identity thieves. And it’s expected to get worse, Credit.com reported. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration projects that criminals will net $26 billion into 2017.

And of course it’s not just the IRS. Banks and credit card issuers make it easy for you to be ripped off. According to a Javelin Research study, 80 percent of the top 25 banks and 96 percent of the top credit card issuers provide account access to a person if they give the correct Social Security number.

So while we fret about the prospective loss of privacy with driver’s licenses, let’s remember to howl about privacy already lost through our current de facto national ID card.

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