Proposed National ID Stokes Privacy-Versus-Security Debate

In the name of creating a national identity card for U.S. citizens, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is calling on states to develop a standardized driver's license.

Aside from the usual personal stats, the cards would be digitally programmed with fingerprints and retinal scans — information that would be accessible to state agencies across the country.

"We don't see this as a national ID," said Jay Maxwell of the AAMVA. "What we do see it as is a way to combat the fraud that is perpetrated using driver's licenses today."

Though the Bush administration opposes the concept of a national ID and some argue it could eat away at individual privacy, the association is pushing the idea in the name of security, mere months after Americans' sense of safety was shattered by terrorists.

"No system is absolutely perfect, but we do believe if we link the person, the card and the driver record together, it will be very difficult for anyone to commit fraud using the driver's license," Maxwell said.

Databases could also be tied to federal agencies like the INS, the Social Security Administration and the FBI.

But critics and individual-freedom advocates accuse the organization of trying to sneak an important new policy in the back door — without the usual back-and-forth in the public arena and on Capitol Hill.

"We certainly need a lot more debate," said Mike Flynn of the American Legislative Exchange Council. "I have real concern for what they would use that for and how they would track people."

The issue of privacy versus security has become even more critical in recent months, and the proposed standardized licenses only promise to intensify the controversy. What remains to be seen is whether the American public, or even Washington, will have a say in the outcome.

"The idea of a national ID card is an issue that goes to the fundamental core of what our country is about," Flynn said. "Certainly our entire citizenry should be involved in the discussion."