Missouri lawmakers press on scanning documents for driver's licenses

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | 9:08 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers pressed their objections to digital copying of driver's license applicants' personal documents, supporting a budget proposal Tuesday aimed at prohibiting the scanning and retaining of such records.

"There's no purpose to scanning these source documents, and without any purpose, I don't think we should be creating a huge database of source documents," said Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.

The budget amendment also takes aim at the use of any photo validation system. It was added by the House to the proposed nearly $25 billion budget taking effect July 1.

Attention over driver's licenses and state identification cards was ignited this month after a southeastern Missouri man filed a lawsuit challenging a recent requirement that documents such as birth certificates and concealed weapons endorsements be scanned into a state computer system. The lawsuit raised concerns that details could be shared with the federal government and others.

The Department of Revenue has said information is not shared with other entities. Under the new process, local license office clerks scan applicants' personal documents instead of simply examining them. Digital documents are sent electronically with other applicant information to a state data center. The department said the scanned documents are retained by the state while other basic information is forwarded to a contractor that is supposed to delete the information after printing and mailing the driver's license.

Deputy revenue director John Mollenkamp said during a House hearing earlier this month that the department began contracting with MorphoTrust USA to make licenses instead of doing them at individual license offices because the company can provide enhanced security features at a lower cost. The company said in a letter that only information needed to create the driver's license or identification card is transmitted to it and that it does not receive source documents. Data files needed to create the license are deleted automatically after quality is verified.

In addition to the budget move, the Senate issued a subpoena Monday demanding an assortment of documents from the Department of Revenue, and a state House committee is considering legislation that would prohibit the state agency from digitally scanning or keeping copies of documents presented by those applying for licenses. The House legislation, HB 787, also is sponsored by Richardson.

Mollenkamp said that under the new process, state employees perform spot checks by selecting about 50 applicants out of as many as 20,000 weekly to verify accuracy. He said public knowledge that state government collects copies of personal documents could serve as a deterrent against people seeking to fraudulently obtain licenses. The changes came after federal charges were brought against nearly 20 people for roles in obtaining licenses for as many as 3,500 illegal immigrants from a license office employee in St. Joseph between November 2009 and January 2012.

Some have questioned whether Missouri's new procedures are part of an effort to comply with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which was passed because of national security fears. One hijacker-pilot involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had four driver's license and ID cards from three states. The federal law has prompted cost and privacy concerns, and a 2009 Missouri law prohibits changes to the license procedures to comply with it. The state law also requires Missouri to protect residents' privacy.

The Senate subpoena was signed by President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey. It directs the Department of Revenue to provide emails, correspondence, notes, grant applications and other written communication between the department and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, MorphoTrust USA, other state agencies and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators regarding changes in procedure for issuing driver's license and the federal Real ID Act. The subpoena seeks records going back to January 2009 and asks that they be supplied to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer by 4 p.m. April 2.

Schaefer, R-Columbia, said there have been conflicting accounts of what is happening and why the process was changed. Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said lawmakers have sought documents without receiving them and that it seems the legislature is being left out of the loop.

"Several of our departments are acting without legislative intent, and it is creating big policy problems," Dempsey said.

Associated Press writer Jordan Shapiro contributed to this report.

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