A Philosopher's Blog

Re-Licensed to Drive

Posted in Law by Michael LaBossiere on September 12, 2011
California Department of Motor Vehicles

Image via Wikipedia

No, I did not get my license revoked and then restored. As my friends will attest, on the rare occasions I do drive, I am rather cautious. Instead, I recently renewed my license.

Back in the day, you renewed your license by going to the DMV (or tax collector). After getting a number, you’d wait and then hand over your old license. You’d get a new photo taken, pay the fee and they would hand you your new license. Done and done. But, as everyone knows, people had a tendency to forge driver’s licenses. This was often done by teens eager to get their drink on, but it was also used for more nefarious purposes. Then came the rising tide of concern about illegal immigrants and, of course, the horror of 9/11. Fear and politics then motivated the creation of a new system that was recently put into effect.

Under the new system, getting your driver’s license renewed is much more involved or far less so.  In Florida you can renew by mail or online every other renewal. Since I renewed my license online last time, I had to go in person to get my new license.  I did, however, wisely make an appointment online-so while the less wise sat waiting for their number to come up, I was able to walk right up to the “appointments only” window.

Under the new requirements, I needed to provide proof of citizenship (I had my passport-which I got mainly because of all the new obsession with identification, papers and cards), proof of my social security number (I used my W-2), and two pieces of evidence showing my address (I used a 1099 form and my voter card).  After my documents were copied (and presumably checked), I got my photo taken, was questioned at length,  paid and got my new license. Given all the documents I had to provide, I was hoping for a smart card on par with my university ID, but it was just the same old lame license that looked like it could duplicated by a competent criminal.  On the plus side, the new renewal period is eight years, so I won’t have to go back in person for another 16 years (assuming the Tea Party does not eliminate the government).

Naturally, I did have some concerns about this new process. The first is that I am unsure how effective it will be. After all, forging the needed documents or otherwise using criminal means to get through the process seems like it would be well within the capabilities of the sort of folks who this process is supposed to thwart. That is, of course, the problem with using documents as proof to get other documents: if my current license cannot be trusted, then why should my other documents be trustworthy? After all, if someone can pull off a fake license, why could they not fake the other stuff? Of course, no security is perfect and perhaps this method does stop enough criminal misuse to make the effort worthwhile.

The second is I am not entirely keen on having so much personal information and documentation stored at the DMV. While I do not have special doubts about the folks who work there (I know plenty of state and city workers), the DMV seems to have the legal right to distribute quite a bit of information to various folks. With the new requirements, the DMV will now have quite a bit more on file. This also makes the DMV a more appealing target for criminal intrusion. I am not, however, exceptionally worried about this. I would, however, not be shocked or amazed if a story came out about someone getting into the system and stealing all sorts of personal information (including copies of people’s documentation). While requiring people to provide much more information is supposed to make the process more secure, it also puts people more at risk by concentrating that information. But, if you want to drive legally, you have to obey the state (or get the rules changed).

Amazingly, my photo wasn’t bad.

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