The last few years have been sobering for our personal information security. We’ve all watched the most powerful among us have their computer systems hacked and what they thought was protected information or private conversations spread in the most public and embarrassing fashion.
It has happened to our largest private companies. It has happened to our candidates for the highest office in the land. It has happened to our own intelligence agencies. Is there any doubt it could happen to any of us?
It’s within this environment that our legislature is now considering HB 74 and SB 34, both versions of the Governor’s bill to bring Alaska into compliance with the Federal REAL ID Act. Without the legislation, in June Alaskans will cease being able to use their state issued IDs to get on military bases and into federal facilities and we won’t be able to use them to board planes starting in January of next year.
The ACLU agrees this is an urgent issue for many Alaskans, which is why we have been working with legislators, the Walker administration, and citizens to see a solution crafted and passed into law before this legislative session ends. We remain committed to that goal.
Unfortunately, as we at the ACLU of Alaska dug into this issue seeking to ensure any such effort took maximum care to safeguard Alaskans’ privacy, we found the Alaska DMV is already engaging in troubling and unauthorized activity in advance of REAL ID.
Not only is the DMV sending information about Alaskans’ social security numbers en masse to a private national database as the Alaska Dispatch News’ Nat Herz chronicled, now DMV officials have for the first time admitted that when you go in to obtain a license, they are making digital copies of Alaskans’ most personal documents including: birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, and license from other states.
These days, many of us already live in fear of what a criminal could do with only one sensitive piece information like our social security number (SSN) or date of birth, but the DMV has just created the mother of all identity theft targets. Its database includes not only identifiers like your name, address, SSN, date of birth, and place of birth, but also biometric information including your height, weight, eye color, and sex. To top it off, they include the two things few other agencies have: your photo and digital copies of your personal documents.
That is a collection of data about you not even the IRS or Social Security Administration have. Just think what a criminal could do with it. Recently we’ve seen data from the largest banks and the most sophisticated spy agencies compromised, but we are asked to believe all this is secure sitting in the impenetrable computer fortress that is the Alaska DMV? And once the DMV shares that data with other state agencies, the federal government, and private contractors, the threat to our privacy grows considerably.
Now, as much as we’d love to be able to tell you to find your legislator and let them have it for signing off on such an invasive and dangerous practice, we can’t. The legislature never gave the DMV the statutory or regulatory authorization to do such a thing.
The authorization the DMV is relying upon actually has nothing to do with what they can or can’t do. It requires any of us to show them such documents as proof our identity when we apply for a driver’s license. The DMV appears to have taken it upon themselves to digitally scan and stockpile it in a government database.
This all gets to the heart of the work our legislators are doing to find a way to offer a REAL ID compliant ID while protecting the privacy of those troubled by the state government having this information about them and sharing it with a REAL ID national database. The current proposed solution is for the state to offer two types of IDs. Those who want or need a REAL ID compliant card can choose to give their information to the DMV and consent to it being shared. Those concerned about their privacy could choose a non-REAL ID compliant driver’s license or state ID and not have their information collected and shared.
This idea of providing Alaskans a real choice on their relationship between their personal data and the government was at the heart of HB 74 as it made its way through the state house. Unfortunately, that choice was effectively stripped out of bill when the House Finance Committee overhauled the legislation on Tuesday by adding provisions mandating the DMV scan and store applicants’ pictures, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other personal documents, and share our personal information including up to 5 digits of our social security numbers with a private multi-state database as mandated by Real ID. This would be true for both Alaskans that opt into Real ID and those who don’t.
One has to ask, “what is the point of having two kinds of cards if Alaskans’ data is being scanned, stored, and shared either way?” Why tell Alaskans they have a choice to protect their privacy when in fact they don’t?
The ACLU of Alaska knows this is an issue that affects thousands of Alaskans and needs to be addressed before the legislature adjourns. We have no interest in delaying or derailing a legislative solution. We believe, however, Alaskans deserve a real choice on Real ID, so we encourage all House members to consider restoring that choice when the bill comes to the floor in the coming days.