Maybe I’m crazy or paranoid, but I'm not willing to compromise my own security so that others can go to extremes to protect theirs. A recent event in my own life is a good example of what I mean.
A friend had invited me to a holiday party at a high-rise apartment building in New York City. When I arrived, I was surprised to hear the security guard tell me that to enter the building I had to show a driver’s license. My driver’s license, with my name, address, birth date, driver’s license number, photo, and other personal information?
Against my judgment, I agreed, but only on the condition that the security guard would not write down any of my information. “We don’t do that here,” she assured me.
Then I watched her place my driver’s license face down onto a photographic scanner. Stunned and outraged, I snatched it off the machine.
I’ve since discovered that scanning or swiping driver’s licenses or other types of identification and storing the data is becoming commonplace among stores and other businesses, schools, government buildings, and more.
“It’s a terrible, terrible practice," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "To begin with, it’s easily a contributor to identity theft, and it’s unnecessary.”
The Washington State Department of Licensing’s website actually encourages the use of driver's licenses to collect data, providing details on how anyone can do so using common barcode readers that can be had for less than $30.
At the New York City apartment building, I explained that I saw no need for the building to record my personal information despite the security guard’s assurance that no one looks at it.
If no one looks at it, then why collect it? How do I know that this data isn’t being sold to marketers or scammers or in some other way disseminated to the world? Where’s the privacy statement that tells me how this information is being used and how long it will be retained? What about the potential for this information to be used to stalk people, the very concern that state and federal lawmakers had when they enacted laws restricting the release of motor vehicle records by the states?
“As a practical matter, it poses the greatest risk for individuals who might be stalking victims or who want to maintain their privacy for specific needs,” Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said. “We’re opposed to it as being an invasion of privacy and creating the potential for identity theft.”