The intelligence agency overhaul approved by Congress this week regulates the way the states grant driver’s licenses, the New York Times says. It is a change that civil liberties advocates and some security experts say could have far-reaching consequences. Issuing driver’s licenses is a state function, but the new law requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to issue regulations on what documentation a state must require before it can grant a license. It requires that licenses be “machine readable,” which will probably be accomplished through a magnetic stripe or a bar code or both.
After a phase-in period, the government will refuse to accept licenses that do not comply with the standard at places like airport checkpoints. “We’re really looking at a national ID system,” said James C. Plummer Jr., a policy analyst at Consumer Alert. “Basically, each state might have the name of the state written in a different font on the front, but there will be a magnetic stripe on the back containing virtually identical information.” Greg Nojeim of the American Civil Liberties Union said the licenses may not be so secure as some people assume, because the “source documents,” including birth certificates and Social Security numbers, are so easily faked. “It’s a garbage-in, garbage-out situation,” he said. “The same people who manufacture fake driver’s licenses today will be manufacturing fake national driver’s licenses tomorrow,” Nojeim said, although the price will increase.