The overhaul of the U.S. federal intelligence system that began taking effect in December of 2004, will do more than create a new national intelligence czar and increase U.S. border patrols. It is also intended to make it more difficult for terrorists to obtain the identity cards needed to board commercial aircraft — by requiring states to follow federal standards for the driver's licenses that they issue to their residents. In particular, the new intelligence legislation would mandate that state driving licenses would have to conform to federal standards in such areas as information shown, machine readability, and authentication methods.
Privacy advocates warn that such standardized licenses would effectively function as national ID cards, thus making it possible for the government to more easily track the whereabouts of innocent citizens, facilitate government officials demanding identification at their discretion, and even make it more easy for criminals to steal an individual's identity. What is particularly worrisome is that many of the law's specifics are yet undetermined, and could include the use of biometric information, such as retinal scans and fingerprints, as well as RFID chips, which would transmit the location of the license and thus presumably its owner.
Government officials counter that they are simply making the driver's licenses already in use, more secure. They point out that it does not take effect immediately, but would rather allow 1 1/2 years for state and federal officials to consider how to best implement the new legislation. They argue that states can choose to opt out of the plan, merely by not modifying their driver's licenses to conform to the new federal standards.
But what are the odds of any state doing that? Such nonconforming licenses would be unusable for any federal purposes, such as boarding airplanes guarded by federal security personnel, and receiving federal benefits despite the individual being qualified to do so and having paid their taxes. It would appear that the choice to opt out is truly no choice at all.
Marv Johnson of the American Civil Liberties Union, quoted in the Houston Chronicle (29 January 2005), painted a disturbing scenario: "Let's say someone steals your driver's license and substitutes their biometrics on there, and basically puts their identity on that card. They then have an official document that says they are you. How do you prove you are you?" The more that government officials rely upon a single card for proof of identity, the greater the odds that such abuses could occur. This would actually result in less security for any American innocent of wrongdoing, especially one whose identity has been stolen.
Even while federal lawmakers claim that the new rules will not create a national ID card reminiscent of identity papers demanded by Nazis, concerned citizens argue that if it has the same effects as a national ID card, then it will be one for all intents and purposes.