Too Much Personal Information On Driver’s Licenses?
Slate’s Albert Wong raises an interesting point:
I need to see your license.” These words are familiar to anyone who has ever entered a nightclub, gambled in a casino, or purchased alcohol or tobacco in their 20s or 30s. At first glance, the request isn’t unreasonable—just about everyone has a driver’s license or (for non-drivers) state ID card, it only takes seconds to comply, and in many, though not all, cases, it’s the law.
But a driver’s license or state ID card contains a wealth of private information. In addition to full name, date of birth, signature, and photograph, licenses and state ID cards typically bear one’s home address, eye color, gender, and height. Some states go beyond that, including Social Security number, fingerprints, natural hair color, and weight. Licenses may also reveal whether one wears contact lenses, has a medical condition, is registered as an organ donor, or relies on hearing aids, mechanical aids or prosthetics.
None of these private details are necessary to verify one’s age. Not only does this additional information not serve any useful function here—it could make you more vulnerable to criminals.
Wong goes on to admit that the vast majority of restaurant workers and bartenders are honest enough that there likely isn’t anything to fear here, however he correctly notes that there have been enough incidents of identity theft or credit card fraud based on information acquired from bar and restaurant patrons to make this something worth paying attention to. An additional risk that Wong doesn’t really touch upon is the possibility that someone could use the information on a driver’s license to stalk someone they encounter at a bar as a customer, obviously something that’s more of a concern for women than men.
Wong notes that there are relatively simple ways to make sure that this doesn’t become a problem:
The good news for anyone who just wants to get a beer at a bar is that there is a simple solution, one that has already been implemented successfully in other jurisdictions. For example, Western Australia, a large state that occupies the entire western third of Australia, issues a “proof of age card” that “shows only those details considered necessary for identification”—namely, full name, date of birth, signature and photograph. “For security reasons,” as the state government explains, no other personal details, such as home address, are shown on the card. Other jurisdictions offering similar proof or evidence of age cards include Ireland, the Isle of Man, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Australian jurisdictions of Queensland and Northern Territory, and the Canadian province of Ontario.
Of course that means that one would potentially have to carry more than one form of identification, so I’m not sure how practical many people would find that solution to be. More broadly, though, it strikes me that there ought to be some technological solution here. Perhaps a bar code that can be placed on the back of a driver’s license that bartenders can quickly scan to confirm that someone is over the drinking age.
This is hardly the most pressing matter out there, but it does seem like something that could be solved easily if we only gave it some thought.