In the United States, the driver license has always been the responsibility of the issuing state. The federal government has had little to do with the process-and the state governments seem to like it that way. According to Mr. Root, “driver license processes and specifications are major state’s rights issues. State governments typically want the feds to keep their hands off.”
But in the months and years following the September 11 attacks, this hands-off approach seemed destined to change. As news spread that as many as eight of the hijackers had been using fraudulently issued drivers licenses to establish a working identity in the country, public attention was drawn to the weaknesses in U.S. driver license issuance processes.
In response to this public attention, a number of initiatives sprung up. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), a body that traditionally helped establish guidelines for license issuance, redoubled ongoing efforts to create licensing standards. More than 100 bills were proposed at the state legislative level and even the federal government considered legislative mandates.
Two Virginia Representatives sponsored the Drivers License Modernization Act of 2002. According the legislative summary, the purpose of the bill was to require that within five years all states would issue drivers licenses with computer chips and biometrics. Specifically, the legislation aimed to mandate the following items:
“(1) include in each new or renewed license or card a computer chip containing card or license text data in electronic form, biometric data on the license or card holder, and security features or optical image layers to assist in visual verification that the license or card is valid;
(2) obtain and maintain such biometric data;
(3) participate in a program to link State motor vehicle databases electronically; and
(4) implement procedures for accurately documenting the identity and residence of an individual before issuing a license or card.”
The Drivers License Modernization Act, like many of the other efforts that rose out of the 9-11 tragedy, did not pass into law. A rising concern from privacy watch groups-who feared that the new drivers license would, in essence, be a national ID card-slowed the fervent pace toward standardization, advanced technologies, and federal involvement. To date, there has been significant change in the issuance processes at many state and local entities but less, it seems, because of mandated rules than the self-initiative of the licensing body. Unfortunately, these changes have not been coordinated across states, and thus result in fragmented progress which, although it may increase security at a local level, does not do so on a national level.