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Driver's License Privacy Questioned

March 01, 2001

By: Ben Paynter

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - DNA records and other private information would be blocked from your driver's license under a proposal to limit government access to personal information.

Rep. David Levin, R-St. Louis County, introduced a bill Thursday that would restrict officials from encoding private information on Missouri driver's licenses. Levin said a license should not become an all-access pass for the Department of Revenue to enter personal lives.

"That is the very essence of who you are," said Levin. "They have literally included virtually everything there is to know about you."

Levin said encoding new information on licenses sets a precedent for further government encroachment into personal privacy.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Levin said."Information is power. Somebody needs to keep this in check."

The bill came in response to an encoding conference the Department of Revenue held in November 1999. During the conference, officials reportedly discussed the possibility of encoding telephone numbers, checking account information, DNA records, and fingerprints on licenses within two years.

The bill, which has drawn support from both sides of the aisle, would allow only information necessary for law enforcement to be printed or encoded on licenses.

Carol Fisher, director of the Department of Revenue, said she shared Levin's opinion for personal privacy. The conference addressed security issues established by public focus groups in the state, she said.

"Privacy is the No. 1 priority of the coding project," Fisher said. "We wanted to explore the outside boundaries of what was technically possible."

Fisher said encoding would decrease the amount of time drivers are forced to wait during a traffic stop, curtail use of fake I.D.s and provide ready access to information about criminal suspects.

Yet local police officers voiced support for Levin's proposal, saying much of the information said to have been considered by the Revenue Department was "superfluous."

"You will really be getting into a lot of people's personal privacy in a lot of respects," said Capt. Eric Meyer of the Columbia Police Department.

Meyer said encoding was not used in the state, but ready access to a driver's fingerprints would be helpful.

"Personal information with regard to checking accounts, would not be of immense help to us," said Capt. Mike Martin, also of the Columbia Police Department.

"This is extreme to the Nth degree," said Levin. "This question is still wide open right now."

Gov. Bob Holden said he would look carefully at the privacy issue before taking a position on Levin's proposal.