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September 9, 2013

Auditor says driver’s license policy violated Missouri law

Missouri driver’s license clerks were asked to scan personal documents to help prove applicants’ identities, a policy that some lawmakers deemed an invasion of privacy until it was halted in July. Auditor Tom Schweich’s letter recommends that state law be changed so the Revenue Department can improve security while protecting applicants’ privacy.

Missouri officials violated state law by requiring driver’s license clerks to make electronic copies of applicants’ birth certificates and other personal documents, state Auditor Tom Schweich said Monday.

An analysis by Schweich’s office concluded that the Department of Revenue broke state law by implementing the driver’s license policy last December without first publishing a formal rule change.

But had the agency issued a rule about the document scanning, it then would have violated a different state law prohibiting it from taking steps to implement a 2005 federal proof-of-identity law known as the Real ID Act, Schweich said.

“Either way, a violation of state law occurred,” Schweich, a Republican, wrote in an analysis addressed to legislators and the director of the Revenue Department.

Fifteen Republican state senators asked Schweich in April to examine the issue. The document-scanning policy was halted in July as a result of a bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

Lawmakers had asserted that the document-scanning policy amounted to an invasion of privacy. But Revenue Department officials had defended it as a means of guarding against identity fraud.

Under the December policy change, clerks scanned into a state computer database people’s birth certificates, concealed-gun permits and other documents that could be used to prove their addresses, such as bank statements and utility bills.

Schweich said Missouri law doesn’t allow the Revenue Department to collect any information from driver’s license applicants by which they can be individually identified unless it has a specific statutory approval to do so. He said no statute or rule notified residents that clerks would be copying their birth certificates.

But Schweich said that a rule allowing retention of the documents would have violated a 2009 state law that says the department “shall not amend procedures” to “comply with the goals or standards of the federal Real ID Act.”

Revenue Department officials have said they weren’t trying to implement the Real ID Act but merely were making security improvements that coincided with some of the provisions of the federal law.

Department spokeswoman Michelle Gleba wrote in an email Monday that the auditor’s analysis confirms the agency didn’t comply with the Real ID Act, but her statement didn’t address the assertion that the agency violated state law by not publishing a rule about the new policy.

Schweich’s letter recommends that legislators consider changing state law so that the department can make security improvements while protecting applicants’ personal information.

As Missouri’s law stands, “it puts them in a predicament,” Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said.

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