Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon enacted a law Monday putting an immediate halt to a controversial policy in which his administration had been making electronic copies of birth certificates and other personal documents from people applying for driver’s licenses.
The new law reverses a six-month-old policy that had caused considerable stir in the Republican-led Legislature. Lawmakers had convened several investigatory committees looking into the alleged violation of Missouri citizens’ privacy rights.
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The legislation signed by the Democratic governor bars the Department of Revenue from making or keeping copies of documents presented by people seeking driver’s licenses or state identification cards. It requires the department to securely destroy all previously copied documents by the end of this year.
Nixon announced he had signed the bill with a single sentence included in the middle of a news release mentioning his action on various other bills. He included no explanation as to why he signed it.
Yet some Republican lawmakers welcomed the decision.
“Outstanding!” said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, who sponsored the legislation. “It’s great that the governor is putting the privacy of Missourians ahead of politics.”
Before Nixon announced he had signed the legislation, Revenue Department officials sent a notice Monday to local licensing offices telling them to quit scanning the documents.
“This is a huge victory for the people of Missouri,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. “They can rest assured tonight that their private information will once again be protected.”
The Department of Revenue in December began making electronic copies of applicants’ personal documents, which included not only birth certificates needed for driver’s licenses but also concealed gun permits shown to get state identification cards. The policy coincided with the agency’s shift to a centralized system in which the cards are printed and mailed by a single contractor from a Georgia facility instead of being produced on the spot in local license offices around Missouri.
Department officials have defended the centralized system as a cost-saver and the retention of scanned documents as a security measure intended to fight fraud. The new law does not halt the centralized printing of driver’s licenses. Nixon had stopped the scanning and retention of concealed gun permits in April.
Among other things, state Revenue Department leaders had pointed to what U.S. attorneys described as a $5 million conspiracy in which more than 3,500 fraudulent ID cards were issued by a St. Joseph license office to people living in the country illegally. About a dozen people have pleaded guilty to federal charges.
But last week, a Revenue Department investigator testified before a House committee that scanning copies of applicant’s personal documents would not have prevented the fraud at the St. Joseph office, because the documents were legitimate but didn’t belong to the people presenting them.
Jones said Monday that a special investigatory committee he appointed will continue meeting, despite Nixon’s policy reversal. He said several questions remain to be probed, including who originated the document scanning and whether Nixon was attempting to comply with a federal proof-of-identity law.
A 2009 Missouri law forbids the state from adopting policies in order to comply with the 2005 federal Real ID Act, which set stringent criteria for photo-identification cards to be accepted at airports and federal buildings. Revenue Department officials have testified that although Missouri’s licensing procedures meet or exceed many of the Real ID criteria, they were not enacted for that purpose but for the state’s own security goals.
Last week, a Cole County judge temporarily blocked the House from carrying out a subpoena that sought to compel testimony from several governor’s office employees and a former Revenue Department director.