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Terrorists in the Driver's Seat

Included in the intelligence-reform law is a provision that requires standardization of driver’s licenses, including security features. But a final rule to propose the new standards won’t be issued until 18 months from the date the bill became law, or June 2006.

States then have two years from that date to comply with whatever the new rules require. The law also allows states that have shown “reasonable efforts to comply” to take two additional years—to 2010—to put their programs in place.

Programs then will apply only to “newly issued” licenses. In a state where driver’s licenses are valid for eight years, someone who gets a license in early 2010 conceivably wouldn’t get an upgraded license until 2018.

The bottom line: Full replacement of licenses will take a decade or more. Given that state of affairs, measures put in place by individual states are critical.

States are hoping to be heavily involved in the federal rulemaking effort as well, says Jason King of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). AAMVA members have been working on license specifications for three years. White House Spokesman Scott McClennan has pledged that states will be consulted for these rules.

Meanwhile, some DMVs have been not only upgrading security features embedded in licenses but also improving procedures for their issuance, says Reed Stager, vice president of corporate licensing and public policy for Digimarc. The company, a supplier of secure media solutions, provides security measures for driver’s licenses in 32 states.

“Most states are putting in audit procedures or are looking at doing that,” says Stager. Some states are dividing the labor involved in creating a driver’s license so that no one person controls the process from data capture to issuance, he adds.

Stager recommends that states shorten the validity period of licenses to, say, four years to reduce long-term fraud and identity theft and to enable more regular upgrades of security features.

New York is having some success with software that detects signs of fraud, such as a single DMV employee issuing an inordinate amount of licenses. However, other proposed measures have not gained much traction.

For example, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has tried to establish an “accountability index,” says Ari Schwartz, associate director of CDT. Under the program, DMVs would compete on which could provide better and more secure services. No one has bought into it yet, Schwartz concedes.