Our Opinion: Let's work together

Monday, February 27, 2006

You have to love the bureaucracy. The folks who have to follow the rules, no matter what, more than often provide fertile ground for irony. Unfortunately, the federal government and the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) have just given us a doozy.

Congress, concerned about the trend in identity theft, passed a law that required that drivers license numbers be unique numbers, not the driver's Social Security number. The measure was signed on Dec. 17, 2004 and took effect a year later.

Prior to the federal law, drivers license stations would change the number if the driver requested it be changed. If the driver was comfortable with their Social Security number being on the license, no change was made.

An Associated Press reporter, doing a story on identity theft, asked officials at the IDOT if they were aware of the federal law banning the use of Social Security numbers as drivers license numbers. IDOT spokeswoman Dena Gray-Fisher said federal officials never notified the state of the new requirements. "Normally, there's an exchange of information as far as what's going on," she said recently. "That did not occur in this case."

More than 177,000 Iowans carry driver's licenses that use their Social Security numbers as their driver's license number, 3,417 of which were issued after the new law took effect. There are more than 46,000 Iowans with non-operator identification cards that use Social Security numbers, 353 of which were issued after Dec. 17.

As a result of the Associated Press' inquiry, the state plans to reissue, at no cost, each license or ID containing a Social Security number and issued after Dec. 17.

The new cards, each imprinted with a unique number, will be sent by certified mail with instructions to destroy the old cards. The replacement process should begin some time in the coming weeks. Iowans with licenses or IDs containing their Social Security numbers and issued before the law took effect can get a replacement for a $1 fee.

If you don't want to pay the fee, the cards will be replaced when they come up for renewal.

All state employees who issue driver's licenses and ID cards have been made aware that they are no longer permitted to include individuals' Social Security numbers on cards.

This may not be as important as homeland security, but ask anyone who has endured the trials of identity theft, and you will see that it is very important. Agencies should communicate better and consumers should not have to suffer because they fail to do so.