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Senate told about licenses, not data

Senate told about licenses, not data

April 2nd, 2013 in News

State senators who are upset about Missouri's new driver's licensing procedures were briefed about the new system in 2011, but were never told that local license office clerks would be making copies of applicant's personal documents to be kept in a state database, according to newly obtained records.

Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that documents, particularly concealed gun permits and birth certificates, are being scanned into a computer system as part of a new driver's license application process. They fear that state officials may share the information with federal authorities or a private contractor, although senior officials in the state Revenue Department, which issues driver's licenses, have denied those assertions.

An audio recording of a January 2011 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing that was provided to The Associated Press shows that Alana Barragan-Scott, who was then the Revenue Department director, wasn't asked and didn't mention that records would be copied and kept in a state computer system while she was describing the new process to senators.

It's unclear when the document scanning began, but the new driver's license program did not take effect until December 2012. Barragan-Scott no longer heads the department, where a spokesman didn't immediately return a message for comment Monday.

Barragan-Scott was testifying before the committee to request almost $300,000 in postage to be used to mail the driver's licenses. The new program, currently in effect, requires applicants to present the necessary documents at local licensing offices while having a picture taken. Instead of immediately being issued a license, they receive a license by mail seven to 10 days later.

The audio recording shows that senators quizzed Barragan-Scott for more than 15 minutes about the new license plan, but the questioning focused mainly on no longer having the convenience of receiving a driver's license from one of roughly 180 local offices. But a couple of committee members did ask how the new system would enhance security.

"One of the things we'll know, for example, if the person's face pops up twice in the system, we will be able to catch that," Barragan-Scott said during the 2011 hearing.

"Right, that's just because you are going to enter their name into a database correct?" asked Sen. Kurt Schaefer, the committee's chairman and a Columbia Republican.

Barragan-Scott responded that the license photo could be reviewed and analyzed. Schaefer then asked another question about the local offices' computer systems, and Barragan-Scott said the lag between when an application is made and when a license is issued allows the department to review the application more thoroughly. The exchange ended with Barragan-Scott saying the computer system did not give the department the ability to thoroughly review a driver's application.

On Monday, Schaefer said he never thought that scanning and retaining documents would be part of the new licensing procedure because of a 2009 state law that prohibits the Revenue Department from implementing the federal government's Real ID requirement. He and other Republican lawmakers have said the scanned and retained personal documents are a means to implement the federal program in Missouri.

Real ID requires that driver's licenses include the holder's full name, birth date, gender, license number, digital photograph, principal address and signature as well as tamper-resistant security features. The law also sets standards for verifying a license applicant's identity and citizenship. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security website lists Missouri as one of 34 states that has submitted a real ID "package and status update," but not among the states that have fully implemented the program.

Schaefer said the scanned documents retained in the state computer system are a "tremendous risk of information" that he said could be shared with federal authorities or a private entity.

Barragan-Scott is now an administrate law judge who hears cases involving state personnel and licensing matters, and other state agency decisions. She didn't immediately return a phone message left with her assistant Monday.

The Senate issued a subpoena last week requiring the Revenue Department to hand over any documents relating to its implementation of Real ID standards by Tuesday afternoon.

Republican lawmakers don't want the scanned documents to be shared with the federal government, but some data is already being given to the Billerica, Mass.-based MorphoTrust USA, the state's contracted vendor that manufactures the driver's licenses. The company said in a letter to the manager of a state license bureau that it only receives information necessary to issue an applicant's license.

"Be assured, we do not maintain a local database of information and at no time do we retain any state citizen data within the encrypted communication paths, servers or equipment," MorphoTrust USA program manager Joel Perez wrote.