Conservatives warn against homeland security bureaucracy

A coalition of 26 conservative groups said that privacy concerns about a proposed national identification system should prompt Congress and the Bush administration to slow their push for a new Homeland Security Department.

In a Tuesday statement spearheaded by Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Coalitions for America, the groups urged "restraint, caution and deeper scrutiny before hastily granting unnecessary powers to a homeland security bureaucracy." Other groups joining the appeal included the Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition of America and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Their key complaint: concern that a variety of proposals to centralize and link to state driver's license databases could "morph the driver's license into a de facto national ID card."

One proposal by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) calls for a national database and biometric identifiers like fingerprints on driver's licenses. The AAMVA proposal is expected to be featured at a House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

Representatives of the Eagle Forum, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) are expected to testify. Both conservatives and traditional civil liberties groups vehemently oppose the AAMVA proposal and a House bill, H.R. 4633, that would require "smart cards" on driver's licenses.

The privacy advocates largely have talked past proponents of standardizing driver's licenses in the debate over a national ID card. Thursday's hearing could mark the first direct engagement on the issue, as the head of the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and two state legislators are expected to support the proposal.

"The notion that an improved driver's license will lead to a national identification card is absurd," according to advance testimony by Wisconsin DMV Administrator Roger Cross.

For months, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., has promised to introduce legislation along the lines of the AAMVA proposal. A spokesman said the senator is "in the final stages" of drafting his bill and has secured a Republican co-sponsor on the Senate Commerce Committee.

"People phrase this issue many different ways," said CDT Associate Director Ari Schwartz, who is scheduled to argue that linking state databases should wait until existing anti-fraud systems have been securely implemented. "Sometimes it looks a lot like a national ID card and sometimes a little like a national ID card. Those who defend [a national] driver's license system have taken the foundation of the systems for granted. We are trying not to do this."

An advance copy of his testimony reads, "We should not increase reliance on driver's licenses and state-issued ID cards without first addressing the major problems of fraud in the issuance of the cards."

But Shane Ham, an official with the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute and a strong supporter of linking state databases, said the debate has advanced in the past six months. "You hear a lot less about a national ID card and a national database of fingerprints that were being used to scare people six months ago."

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