It sometimes seems that every magazine, newspaper, and bank statement insert is warning us about people who want to steal our personal information and turn it to their own benefit. When the Real ID Act is fully implemented three years from now, those of us who drive may be sitting ducks for identity thieves. The DMV will be keeping digital copies of our birth certificates and other forms of identification, and they'll be linked in a nationwide database. The Los Angeles Times tells why this is worrisome:
To some industry experts and activists concerned about the fast-growing crime of identity theft, putting so much data before more eyes guarantees abuse at a time when people are increasingly concerned about who sees their personal information and how it gets used.DMV employees in every state will have access to information from every other state. Even if our own Wisconsin staff is entirely honest, there are plenty of other folks who will now be able to grab our data and sell it.
"It's a gigantic treasure trove for those who are bent on obtaining data for the purpose of creating fake identities," said Beth Givens of the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Armed with a stranger's name, Social Security number and date of birth, it's not hard for fraudsters to take out bogus loans that can wreck a victim's credit record.
Feeling a bit uneasy yet? Let's turn our attention to the license itself. Under the Act, every state's license will contain personal information in an identical format that can be scanned like a credit card. From the Times again:
Critics predict the standardization will prompt many more merchants to scan customer licenses and then pass on the information to such data brokers as ChoicePoint Inc. and LexisNexis. The databases of both ChoicePoint and LexisNexis have been exploited by identity thieves.By the way, in Wisconsin we can currently block wholesale requests for our information by filing an opt-out form with the DMV. That privilege would presumably fall by the wayside when we are at the mercy of other states.
"There's no data-protection law, so it can be sold to companies like ChoicePoint," said Bruce Schneier, the author of several books on security technology. "It would be silly not to, since it's a revenue stream."
So the bottom line seems to be that our own identities will be compromised in the name of security. But will we really be more secure? Can a terrorist submit a phony foreign birth certificate or passport? Perhaps. How about requesting a U.S. birth certificate for a child who died and assuming that child's identity? That's been done too. Just going without a driver's license would make life more difficult for the would-be terrorist, but not impossible. There are still plenty of loopholes in this system.
Was identity theft debated in Congress before the bill passed? Sadly, no. Since Real ID was attached to the military spending bill, it would have been unpatriotic to inquire into the details of the legislation. That's what Jim Sensenbrenner was counting on.