While it is under scrutiny for issuing fraudulent driver's licenses on one front, the Motor Vehicle Administration is relaxing one of its identification requirements on another front in response to a motorist's privacy concerns.
The MVA will stop forcing Marylanders to divulge their Social Security numbers when obtaining or renewing driver's licenses, based on a Severna Park woman's complaint that the number should be private.
The agency will continue to ask for the number, but it now will take "no" for an answer, MVA Administrator W. Marshall Rickert said.
In this instance, the MVA is responding to a complaint that it
demanded too much personal information from a law-abiding driver.
During the past week, others have criticized the MVA for doing just the opposite -- failing to ask for enough information from impostors who fraudulently obtained driver's licenses and an identification card.
An MVA employee was suspended last week for giving two fraudulent driver's licenses to an 18-year-old man who allegedly used them as identification in attempted frauds during an
abduction, murder and spending spree. The 18-year-old is charged with murdering one victim.
Also, a Baltimore physician has criticized the agency for issuing an identification card in his name to an impostor who drained his checking account while he was on vacation.
The decision to relax the Social Security number requirement is unrelated to those fraud cases.
Rather, the case against the requirement picked up steam last fall, when Ruth "Martie" Sewell of Severna Park tried to renew her driver's license. She refused to provide MVA employees with her Social Security number, and they refused to renew her license.
In 1987, the General Assembly gave the MVA the power to require the number as an internal "identifying number." State regulations prohibit the MVA from disclosing the number to the public or businesses.
Mrs. Sewell gave the MVA her number so she could keep driving, but took her complaint to politicians and the news media.
She said she disliked government and businesses compiling information about her under her Social Security number, as if it were some sort of national tracking system.
Mrs. Sewell sent the MVA excerpts from the U.S. Privacy Act to support her claim that Maryland cannot deny a driver's license to someone who wants to keep his Social Security number private.
Mr. Rickert said, "I really didn't choose to pursue those arguments."
Rather, he said, he decided to change the policy because it was not worth arguing with the half-dozen Marylanders who have disputed it. "I don't think it's worth fighting to get a Social Security number in those small number of cases," he said, noting that the MVA is removing Mrs. Sewell's number from its computer.
The agency uses Social Security numbers to verify driving records in other states or with a national drivers' registry, and for other official purposes.