Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Revamping Your Drivers License - TIME

Passport USAImage by clappstar via Flickrhttp://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1059044-1,00.html
Let's dispense with the mythology right up front. A driver's license has never been just about driving. When the first ones were issued in the early 1900s, the idea was to collect fees, not to test driving skills. More recently, revoking licenses became a way to punish people who didn't pay child support or, in Wisconsin, shovel snow off their walks. In its most coveted form, the license is proof of age--or of fraud, as the case may be. In college, for example, I was not Amanda Ripley from New Jersey; I was Amanda Jones from California. I lived on Yellowbrick Road and looked suspiciously joyful in the photo, which was taken in the dorm room of an unsavory character to whom I had paid $40.
Congress is expected this week to reinterpret the driver's license yet again. The license will never, of course, be called a national ID card, which evokes jackboots and imperial forces in the minds of many Americans. But the new law would make it function a lot like a national ID that comes in 50 varieties. To begin with, states would have to ensure that everyone who gets an official license is in the U.S. legally. Nine states do not have that requirement, and not all the others verify the authenticity of the immigration documents that they demand. The new law would also mandate certain standard details on licenses, including a digital photo (about 20 states still use regular photos glued in place). And it would require that states store all that information, along with residents' driving histories and points, in a database that every other state could access.
The bill's supporters say it would not establish a national ID card, since no one has to get a driver's license or state ID. That's correct. Such documents are useful only if you need to drive, fly, cash checks, apply for certain jobs or enter federal buildings. If you are a wealthy recluse with liquid assets, it doesn't concern you.
Although countries from France to Singapore have accepted national IDs, the U.S. remains resistant. Never mind that daily movements and decisions are already quite traceable, thanks to Social Security numbers, credit cards, cell phones and toll-booth smart cards. Never mind that 6 out of 10 Americans have been fingerprinted for one reason or another and that 13 states have biometric requirements (like fingerprints) for getting driver's licenses. No one can force us to carry a unified ID card (yet). --Reported by Perry Bacon Jr., Brian Bennett and Viveca Novak/ Washington
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