A high-tech driver's license that could be used to pay tolls and do banking while providing authorities access to everything from fingerprints to medical records soon will be tested in New Jersey.
But civil libertarians warned the "Smart Card," which carries a data-packed computer chip, may be too smart for it own good. And they question how all that information will be protected from potential abuse."I think citizens should be extremely scared about loss of privacy," said David Rocah of the American Civil Liberties Union. "They could store tax data. They could store medical data. They could store driver's records, insurance data, virtually any data in the government's possession."
What's to keep a grocery store, Rocah wondered, from using that data for marketing information?
John Graf Jr., spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said safeguards are a high priority and will be studied when a three-month pilot program begins this fall for thousands of motorists. It could be expanded to all 6 million license holders next year.
Data on the pilot cards would be limited to standard driver's license information but eventually cards could contain fingerprints, driving records, registration and insurance information, and even medical records.
"It comes down to being a smarter and smaller government," Graf said. "We're trying to bring together in one card all of these bureaucratic things that have to be done. ... There's a lot of paper being pushed, a lot of time being used. This is going to save people a lot of time, aggravation and money."
He said Utah also is close to testing a similar card and Connecticut is looking into the concept.
A tentative timetable calls for the licenses to be issued to all New Jersey drivers starting in July 1997. They would contain data for the motorist's picture, signature and fingerprints as well as an "electronic purse" that could be used to pay for bus and train fares.
The third phase would add vehicle registration and allow the cards to be used on state toll roads.