Driver's license dispute figures in intelligence bill talks

Negotiations on the fate of legislation to reshape the nation's intelligence agencies are revolving not only around the widely reported question of funding control for the spy bureaus, but also around a bid by one House committee chairman to keep driver's licenses out of the hands of illegal aliens.

The driver's license issue touches not only on the IT homeland security policy, but on identification fraud generally as well as immigration policy.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is demanding that the intelligence bill include a mandate for federal standards for issuance of birth certificates and IDs such as driver's licenses.

'Realizing that the 19 9/11 hijackers had 63 validly issued U.S. driver's licenses, the 9/11 Commission wisely recommended, 'The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's licenses. Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft,' ' Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

'Regrettably, the Senate thus far has been hellbent on ensuring illegal aliens can receive driver's licenses,' the lawmaker said. Senate negotiators so far have rejected the ID provisions as unrelated to the core purpose of the intelligence bill.

Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, pointed to the risks of adopting Sensenbrenner's approach: 'I think it is unfortunate that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is pushing to establish a quasi-national ID card,' Rotenberg said. 'It is certainly the case that an effort to identify illegal immigrants will have privacy consequences for American citizens and legal residents.'

Rotenberg said privacy activists make the point that driver's license databases easily could be used for purposes other than establishing legal residence, and that adequate privacy safeguards on the data don't exist yet. He added that there is a public interest in making sure that all drivers on public roads hold licenses, and that preventing illegal aliens from getting the documents could make the highways more dangerous.

House and Senate negotiators also reportedly are at odds over how the intelligence agency funds will be controlled, with the House favoring continued Pentagon control over about four-fifths of spy appropriations. President Bush likely will join with Senate leaders in continuing to press for passage of a bill that would reshape the intelligence agencies' structure.


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