April 28, 2008

Real ID Worries Domestic Violence Groups

Every year, about 1,000 domestic violence victims legally change their Social Security numbers in an attempt to elude people who may pose threats, and many more change their legal names, according to figures compiled by advocacy groups.

But hiding from stalkers may become more difficult under a federal law called the Real ID Act that's scheduled to take effect on May 11.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's new regulations mandate specific standards for what personal information states must print on the face of Real ID drivers licenses and encode on their machine-readable zones. Although there's some consideration for people who qualify for special confidentiality treatment, critics argue the protections don't go far enough.

Homeland Security hasn't yet stipulated what information must be exchanged among the state-to-state databases, saying only that it will be "limited," nor has it specified exactly how the database linking will work, leaving lingering worries among privacy and victim advocates.

All it would take is a determined, persuasive stalker--many have tricks, like saying an ex-spouse is suicidal or otherwise in need of help--and a gullible or corrupt DMV employee, and a victim's identity could be divulged, Southworth said.

"Given that there are less than six degrees of separation between most abusers and a friend or relative who works for the DMV, we are concerned about victims' location information housed in state databases that could be searched nationally," Southworth said. "Prior to national search ability, a victim could move to a different state and increase her safety and privacy, but national search functionality could place countless victims at risk."

"We still have this problem of the backbone of this system, which is that we're creating this nationwide system of databases, all interlinked," said Guilherme Roschke, an Electronic Privacy Information Center fellow who focuses on domestic violence privacy issues. "A breach in one is a breach in all of them."



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