WASHINGTON – Congress last week failed to repeal a law that will require that Social Security numbers become part of a driver’s license, a plan that privacy advocates fear is the first step toward a national ID card.
Opponents have vowed to continue to fight the law, set to take effect Oct. 1, 2000, which requires that states issue drivers’ licenses that “contain a Social Security number that can be read visually or by electronic means.”
“A national ID system, based on the Social Security number, poses a direct threat to personal privacy and to the security of personal information,” Greg Nojeim of the American Civil Liberties Union said this month.
The measure was slipped into an immigration reform bill in 1996 and has since drawn fire from groups from across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Conference of State Legislatures and Americans for Tax Reform.
A bill to repeal the measure failed in the Congress that adjourned last week, but opponents were pleased that they at least have another year to work on its defeat.
“It would have been great if it were a wholesale repeal, but at least this gives us a chance,” an ACLU spokeswoman said Friday.
Maryland does not now require Social Security numbers on drivers’ licenses, but officials said they are prepared to comply with the new regulation if and when it takes effect.
“The driver’s license will not have the Social Security number printed on it but it will be on record with us,” said Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
He said the state will not actually print the number on a driver’s license but will encode it electronically on the card.
The requirement passed in September 1996 as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform Act. It required the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a regulation mandating that driver’s licenses “shall contain a Social Security number that can be read visually or by electronic means.”
“A federal agency may only accept as proof of identity a driver’s license or identification document that conforms” to this requirement, the rule reads.
“It was passed without a lot of people noticing it because it was tacked on” to the immigration bill, said Karen Barnes, a staff member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
The bill is meant to “improve deterrence of illegal immigration,” but privacy advocates view it as a violation of their constitutional rights.
Social Security numbers were never intended to be identifiers, said Nojeim.
“A number of organizations and members of Congress are pushing very hard to get this motion deleted,” he said.
Scher said that the MVA wants to do everything it can to protect Marylanders, but it has to support the new licensing regulations “because it is going to be federal law.”
“We are going to honor the law as it stands right now,” said Scher, who said the MVA would not lobby one way or another on the proposed repeal.
But Nojeim said the law should not be left standing. A national ID system would violate Americans’ right to be left alone, he said.
“Unlike children and workers in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, apartheid South Africa, Castro’s Cuba or Saddam’s Iraq, no American need fear the demand, `Identity papers!'” he said.