Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Database Politics

Recently, I interviewed the "fake boarding pass guy," Chris Soghoian, and we discussed the design and security problems that take place with "feature creep," when institutions that both maintain large databases and issue documents have those documents or databases used for purposes that were never intended. Soghoian argued that social security cards were a classic case of something used for authentification purposes despite being meant for something else. Another obvious case, which has been much in the news this month, is driver's licenses. Obviously, such licenses are intended only to certify that a person is able to drive a car safely, although they are used to board planes, write checks, borrow gas cans from filling stations, and check-out head-mounted displays at digital art installations.

Facing an outcry from anti-immigration forces, the state of New York just abandoned a proposal that would have allowed undocumented workers who are behind the wheel anyway to be certified as safe and insured, although pro-license politicians chiefly advertised the benefit of adding this portion of the population to a database that could be accessed by law enforcement. California also continues to circulate legislation on the issue, although it has been difficult to get a bill past the governor's veto. To learn more, the National Immigration Law Center maintains a web page on called the Driver's License Index that tracks this issue and even provides talking points for advocates. La Raza provides a similar "toolkit." On the federal side, Congress has introduced the problematic and slow-moving H.R. 4043 to actually take licenses away.

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