IT, Terrorists and My DMV
By Samuel Greengard
Let me begin by saying I don't profess to be anything close to an expert on terrorism. I also don't profess to be anything close to an expert on driver's licenses. However, I do know enough about IT to know there must be a better way of doing things than what I recently experienced at an Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.
My driver’s license was up for renewal, so I dutifully marched into a local DMV office to submit the renewal form and a check in order to obtain my new license. I haven’t had any tickets or collisions, let alone committed any crimes, during the last eight years.
When I stepped to the counter, the clerk reviewed my paperwork and asked for a birth certificate or U.S. passport to validate my identity. Huh? I thought the previous driver's license was considered adequate proof.
Nope. Ms. Clerk informed me I need one of these two documents to validate my identity. When I asked why, she sarcastically told me, "Some bad people flew planes into some big buildings in 2001."
Thanks, I hadn't heard about that one! But why do I need proof for what has always served as proof? The clerk told me the state legislature passed a bill in 2007 requiring Oregon residents to prove their identity when they renew their driver’s license.
Brilliant--except terrorists and crooks probably have fake birth certificates and fake passports, too. And by now, approximately 35 years after I first obtained a driver's license, the government still doesn't know who I am?
So, not having what is considered sufficient proof of my identity, I'll have to trudge back to the DMV another day to prove who I am.
This situation points to an enormous problem: In an era of sophisticated databases and mind-bending algorithms, government (and too many businesses) still use the equivalent of chicken scratches to process transactions. Just as with flying, 99.999999999% of the population who wants to renew their driver’s license is seriously inconvenienced for the one in a million person who has bad intent. However, the current exception-based system is perilously close to an utter failure. If someone wants to blow up buildings bad enough, do we honestly think a requirement to prove citizenship or a legal presence in the U.S. will stop him or her?
I'm not against stringent security measures—nowadays they're absolutely essential. But I am appalled by frivolous and sometimes dumb security measures that make life more difficult for everyone and do little to ferret out the bad guys. I mean, doesn't the government have a record of who I am? Doesn't it know by now I'm not a terrorist threat? And if I were a threat, why would I wait to renew my license to do some dastardly deed?
Where is information technology when we really need it?