With the help of an inflow of Federal funds, Virginia officials are making moves to develop a master identity database of residents using Department of Motor Vehicle records as its core.
The State’s government contends that the largely Federally funded e-ID system called the Commonwealth Authentication Service will lessen occurrences of fraud and help residents do business electronically with the State. But critics worry that the database could be abused.
“It makes it easier to compromise your privacy,” Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “They’re using DMV for some other purpose than driving.”
Virginia officials expect that many residents will cast aside any privacy concerns over the massive State identity database because it will make it easier to deal with frustrating government forms.
“This is geared toward citizens who say, ‘Why do I have to fill out this again?'” said David Burhop, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ deputy commissioner and chief information officer.
Information including names, addresses, dates of birth and driver’s license numbers of the nearly 5.9 Virginians registered with the DMV is set to be compiled in the electronic database. The first of the State’s agencies to use the database will be the Department of Social Services because, officials say, it will aid in satisfying new Federal Medicaid requirements imposed by the Affordable Care Act.
State officials say that the database will allow residents to create verifiable virtual identities that could be beneficial in other aspects of life as well — for example, selling a vehicle online.
“If both parties had a high-assurance credential such as an e-ID,” Pam Goheen, DMV’s assistant commissioner for communications, told the Dispatch, “this transaction could be done entirely online which would include the registration and title updates eliminating the need to visit the DMV and speeding up the process.”
But the ACLU’s Gastañaga argues that the government promises of increased convenience are not worth the potential for abuse of the system later.
“When we allow governments to do that,” said Virginia ACLU’s Gastañaga, “it facilitates and empowers things that we might not want to have happen if the wrong people get into power.”
The State has held no public debate on whether such a system should be created, but public officials contend that there is no need because inclusion in the system will be optional at first.
Other concerns surrounding the e-ID system include the safety of the information to be stored by the government, as hackers are routinely able to breach government information systems. The Commonwealth Authentication Service, some experts warn, could become a treasure trove for identity thieves.
“When you ask a government entity to keep something like this safe, they really can’t,” one cybersecurity expert said. “Nobody can guarantee it.”