MVA's credibility

March 06, 1992

The Motor Vehicle Administration's decision to halt the

issuance of identification cards is the latest indication of widespread fraud and irregularities. During the next three months, officials will try to figure out a better system. Only then will photo ID cards again be issued as a means of identification for those not possessing a driver's license.

Recent events have shown that MVA personnel, either due to corruption or carelessness, have been issuing numerous bogus driver's licenses. Whether they number in the hundreds or thousands may never be known. But horror stories about false driver's licenses and IDs used to cash stolen checks are now so common that even a personal secretary to Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer was among the victims. Fourteen people last Friday alone attempted to obtain fraudulent driver's license duplicates or ID cards, MVA officials said, describing it as a "typical" number.

Mr. Lighthizer is now proposing spending $200,000 for a year-long study about ways to improve MVA's record system and avoid fraud. Among options to be studied would be a $20 million digital imaging computer system that would enable the agency to electronically store a copy of each driver's license photograph. Fingerprints and signatures could also be included in that file.

The proposal has already triggered concerns -- because of its cost and privacy implications.

Even if the MVA had the proposed imaging technology in place, it is unlikely that the issuance of many bogus licenses could have been stopped as long as the criminal applicants had an MVA employee conspiring with them. In fact, such technology might encourage more criminals to try to corrupt MVA employees: Once such a record -- with pictures, fingerprints and signature -- is on file, the deception might be extremely difficult to detect.

During the past five years, MVA has attempted to shake off its reputation for bureaucratic hostility. But in becoming user-friendly, it relaxed safeguards to the extent that widespread irregularities resulted. The public has a choice: either to have a fool-proof system where obtaining licenses will be time-consuming and expensive or have a convenient system making use of costly technology. In neither case will misuse be totally absent.

The priorities are clear. Safeguards must be established that enable the MVA to operate without widespread fraud. Corrupt personnel must be weeded out. Complicated technological improvements and their legal implications must then be studied. But technology will never be a panacea for the MVA as long as people push the buttons.


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