NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 13, 2004

A debate over whether illegal immigrants should be able to get licenses nearly derailed the intelligence overhaul bill that cleared Congress last week and awaits President Bush's signature. That issue was shelved, but the bill requires national standards for licenses, now regulated by states.

  • The regulations, to be issued within 18 months, will tell states which documents they must require to grant a license.
  • The law also requires that licenses be "machine readable," probably through a bar code or magnetic strip.
  • That feature would be used, for example, when passengers verify their identity to get on a plane.

The goal is to make it tougher to get a license fraudulently and easier to catch those who try. With good reason, says USA Today. The driver's license is the "weakest link in a weak chain" of documents used to verify a person's identity, according to a 2003 report by the Markle Foundation on homeland security.

Privacy advocates worry that national standards for licenses are the first step toward creating a national ID card -- a hot-button issue for those concerned about the government's increasing ability to track its citizens. But making an existing ID more reliable is no threat. In fact, the war on terrorism is likely to make further steps necessary.

The immediate benefits mostly will be unintended ones, says USA Today:

  • Underage drinkers, or anyone else, will have a tougher time forging or altering driver's licenses.
  • Law enforcement officials will be able to more easily spot fake licenses and track bad drivers who've had licenses revoked in another state.
  • Security will be more effective at buildings that check driver's licenses for access.

Source: Editorial, "Fix IDs, for terror and more," USA Today, December 13, 2004; and Markle Foundation Task Force, "Second Report: Creating a Trusted Network for Homeland Security," Markle Foundation, December 2003.

For Markle report


Browse more articles on Government Issues