January 15, 2005

They Misunderstand

"There is a strong sense of protection of privacy by all of the administrators of DMV records, because we know the value of the information we've been entrusted with,' said George Tatum, North Carolina's Department of Motor Vehicle commissioner. 'We just want you to be who you say you are."

"The information you give us right now is confidential and private,' [Betty Serian, deputy secretary for safety administration at Pennsylvania's Transportation Department] said. 'It's not in any way compromised by this new legislation."

Those quotes came from this article concerning federal standards for driver's licenses. The article has a brief summation of the new legislation (though not a very specific one) & is centered around the concerns of people who fear that their information may be stolen & the responses from beauracrats in favor of the federal standards.

But nothing was mentioned about the concerns of people like me.

While worried about someone else stealing my identity the big problems I have with this are that the feds have no authority or business mandating this to the states (which they technically don't do - more on that later) & more importantly the feds do not have the need or authority to implement such a database as would be constructed under the new standards.

"States can opt out — refuse to make changes to their driver's licenses that will be required under the federal law — but then the licenses would be useless for any federal purpose, from getting benefits to boarding an airplane guarded by federal screeners."

So this is a different tactic than they usually use. Often when the feds don't have the authority to force the states to do their bidding (for example raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 or lowering the BAC limit from .10 to .08) they'll say that any state that doesn't do a specific thing will not receive federal funds until they do. Now they'll have the people of a state demanding their state comply so they can get their benefits or board a plane.

Ya know I'm still looking in the constitution for the justification that permits the feds to dictate standards for boarding a plane. I know they'll say it's the Interstate Commerce Clause but I find that to be a very broad reading.

But the feds have no reason to have access to that type of information. Hell, according to my copy of the constitution they have no authority to enforce the majority of the laws they pass concerning individual citizens. Course it will be raised that there wasn't a driver’s license to debate about during the ratification of the constitution. To which I will surely respond that generally permission to travel was not seen as a necessary or proper function of government back then.

Jed over at Freedom Sight has been covering privacy related issues quite a bit lately. He's posted about an identity thief getting caught, data aggregation company Choicepoint on Privacy, a discussion about Choicepoint vs. Epic, more on Choicepoint vs. Epic, in certain parts of Texas an SSN being required for trash collection, & privacy after death.

Gunner of No Quarters also posts a bit on privacy. Here's one on a court decision saying GPS transmitters attached to one's car by cops does not require a warrant. Here's one on Green Bay cops getting a person's fingerprints for traffic tickets with the follow up that Green Bay stopped after many complaints. He posted about Maryland admitting their "ballistic fingerprinting" program was useless (yes that's a privacy issue as well) as well as cops in Massachusetts going door to door for DNA.

But perhaps the most relevant one I've seen is from Gunner who simply posted the words of Edward Gibbon (author of The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire [also look here]) concerning Athens:

"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all — security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."

Now some of you may be thinking that standardization of driver's licenses is a good thing. It will make it harder to steal I.D.'s & make I.D. required activities such as voting more fraud proof.

To this I must say bullshit. If cheating occurs in elections it isn't really hampered by having a tougher requirement for I.D. Sure, it'll stop the lone person who wants to vote in two different districts but it won't do much for the more widespread fraud that is more likely an organized effort. It'll make it a little trickier, but not much.

Stealing I.D.'s will be just as easy for the determined if not more so. Think about it - a centrally accessible database of driver's license info? If you fail to see that as potentially troublesome then you probably don't understand why Microsoft Works is an oxymoron.

But the most troubling part I see is this: a centralized database or even a centrally accessible database of driver's license info would also double as a centralized database of gun carriers. Most if not all states that issue CCW's or other gun related permits include such information in your driver's license data. For example if you run someone's license in Colorado & they have a CCW that information appears on the cops screen.

See where I'm going with this? Maybe not in 5 years or even 10, but 20 years down the road I can see this being used by the feds as a way of keeping tabs on gun owners. Have all states issue CCW permits & discourage if not outlaw open carry, or require a FOID as in NJ or Illinois & include that data in your DMV files & presto - gun owner registry.

A friend of mine has opined before that he has no problem with registration as long as it's not used for confiscation. The problem is that registration is only good for confiscation. It does not deter crime. In fact it encourages it because people such as myself & a few others will defy any registration law that is applicable to us.

The whole premise of registration is that if you register then you have no ill intent whereas if you don't register then obviously you're up to no good. That makes it as useful as a law requiring all gun owners to tie a pink bow around their barrels. Those with pink bowed firearms are the good guys while those that refuse to daintify their shooting irons must be no good scoundrels.

But registration is useful in denying people arms as well as making confiscation easier. Its denial feature is being used right now in D.C. & its confiscation feature has been used in NYC & California among other places. All within the last 30 years.

Anyway the federal standardization of driver's licenses will happen. It's simply a matter of hashing out the details. I find this disturbing on several levels, not the least of which is the de facto gun owner database it could be used for. But my main concern is that this is yet another instance in which the feds are touching an individual's life where they do no have the authority to justly do so.

Posted by Publicola at January 15, 2005 09:58 PM
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