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?



2 Comments for "IT, Terrorists and My DMV"

  • jojo December 12, 2012 1:56 pm

    I believe the Federal Government has passed a law that all states must do similar things. The deadline is a couple of years away. In CT you can renew your license as usual or you can submit the additional paperwork to get the upgraded ID. The purpose is not just to prevent terrorists seizing/blowing up planes it's also an immigration thing....

  • William_Speaks December 11, 2012 9:21 pm

    Math check: 99.999999999% is 1 in 10 trillion....

Leave a Comment