Congress Close to Establishing Rules for Driver's
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: October 11, 2004
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 - Following a recommendation of the Sept. 11
commission, the House and Senate are moving toward setting rules for the
states that would standardize the documentation required to obtain 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, as well
as reduce the highway death toll by helping states identify applicants
whose licenses had been revoked in other states.
The Senate version of the intelligence bill includes an amendment,
passed by unanimous consent on Oct. 1, that would let the secretary of
homeland security decide what documents a state would have to require
before issuing a driver's license, and would also specify the data that
the license would have to include for it to meet federal standards. The
secretary could require the license to include fingerprints or eye
prints. The provision would allow the Homeland Security Department to
require use of the license, or an equivalent card issued by motor
vehicle bureaus to nondrivers for identification purposes, for access to
planes, trains and other modes of transportation.
The bill does not give the department the authority to force the states
to meet the federal standards, but it would create enormous pressure on
them to do so. After a transition period, the department could decide to
accept only licenses issued under the rules as identification at
The House's version of the intelligence bill, passed Friday, 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 say they 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 integrating screening system,"
said Marv Johnson, the 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 the result would be "to require you to
have some national ID card, essentially, in order to go from point A to
James C. Plummer Jr., a policy analyst at Consumer Alert, a nonprofit
organization based here, said, "You're looking at a system of internal
But 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
The aide, who asked not to be identified because of his involvement in
drafting the measure, said it would not create a national identification
card but would standardize a form of identification routinely issued by
Representative Candice S. Miller, the Michigan Republican who drafted
the license section of the House measure, said, "I don't think this is
anything that should cause anyone concern."
Of the 50 states, 48 are members of interstate compacts that exchange
information on moving violations, so that a driver from, say, Maryland,
who picks up a speeding ticket in Florida will accumulate points in his
home state. But Michigan and Wisconsin are not members of a compact. Ms.
Miller said one purpose of the provision she wrote was to fix that
A spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle
Administrations, which represents the state officials who issue driver's
licenses, said linking the databases and strengthening control over who
could get a license was long overdue. "The American public should be
outraged to know that departments of motor vehicles nationwide lack the
capability to do the jobs we've asked them to do," said the spokesman,
In both houses, the legislation is geared to respond to numerous
recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission. For years before the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement officials,
especially those concerned with identity theft, argued that the states
should have more rigorous standards for issuing driver's licenses. But
the commission pointed out that "fraud in identification documents is no
longer just a problem of theft."