By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday that his administration will stop making electronic copies of people's concealed gun permits, reversing a policy that Republican lawmakers had widely denounced as an invasion of privacy.
The Democratic governor's decision comes after a month of growing controversy over a new Department of Revenue procedure in which local driver's license clerks are scanning copies of applicants' personal documents - such as concealed gun permits and birth certificates - into a state database as a means of rooting out fraud.
"It has been determined that the scanning and retention of concealed carry certificates are not essential to the integrity of the license issuance process," Nixon said Tuesday in a written statement. "We will continue to work with policymakers to ensure the security and privacy of our license issuance process."
The Department of Revenue handles concealed carry permits because it is responsible for issuing the necessary photo identification cards or placing a concealed weapons endorsement on people's driver's licenses. In addition to no longer copying the documents, the department will delete copies of concealed gun permits that already have been stored on state computers, said agency spokesman Ted Farnen.
But Nixon's decision allows license offices to continue scanning birth certificates, marriage licenses or other identifying documents.
Republican lawmakers and gun-rights advocates welcomed Nixon's policy reversal but insisted that more changes are needed. Among other things, they suggested that Nixon's administration should stop scanning all personal documents and delete those already stored in the computer system.
"I think the governor has done the right thing here by stopping the scanning of concealed and carry permit information. Does it fully address the problem? No, we've still got work to do," said Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, who is sponsoring legislation that would bar the Revenue Department from keeping copies of any personal documents submitted by license applicants.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, who has held hearings on the new policy, also vowed that his inquiry would press forward.
"This issue isn't going to end until we get resolution on how they are protecting the public's information," said Schaefer, R-Columbia.
The Revenue Department, which oversees the driver's license bureau, instituted the new document-scanning procedures in December - much to the surprise of many people showing up to renew their licenses. The changes were made after a batch of convictions and guilty pleas in a scheme that federal prosecutors say allowed Missouri driver's licenses to be issued to several thousand people living in the country illegally who had showed fraudulent identification documents to a St. Joseph licensing clerk.
The controversy began building in March, when top Republican officials touted a lawsuit challenging the new procedures. In the past few weeks, Republican lawmakers have issued a subpoena to the Revenue Department, convened investigatory hearings and held numerous news conferences denouncing the new procedures. They also have advanced bills that would bar the agency from making electronic copies of concealed gun permits and order it to destroy any existing files in the database.
Republicans have asserted that the database of documents violates privacy rights and alleged that Missouri is taking steps to comply with the federal proof-of-identity law known as Real ID, though Nixon has denied that.
As recently as last week, Revenue Department Director Brian Long told a Senate committee that he was unwilling to commit to halting the scanning of concealed gun documents. Long abruptly resigned Monday, citing the unanticipated personal toll of the job to which he had been appointed in December.
Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who promoted the lawsuit against the procedure, described Nixon's decision Tuesday as "a victory for law-abiding Missourians."
"However, this change in policy should never have been necessary, and the governor and his appointed officials in the Department of Revenue owe the Missouri people an apology," Kinder said in a written statement.
During a Senate committee hearing last week, the Missouri State Highway Patrol acknowledged that it had twice obtained an electronic list of people with Missouri concealed gun permits and provided it to an investigator in the U.S. Social Security Administration who was searching for instances in which people may have fraudulently received disability benefits. The federal agency said it was unable to read the encrypted disks and destroyed them. Those lists were unrelated to the scanned documents but heightened Republican concerns that the scanned documents could be shared with federal authorities or other entities.
Associated Press writers Chris Blank and Jordan Shapiro contributed to this report.
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