Legislating Identity Contexts


Identity credentials have contexts. When I was talking to Kim Cameron this morning, he used the example of a Government issued passport and coffee club card. The context for the passport is a border crossing. The context for the coffee club card is buying coffee. But identity credentials are often used out of context. Sometimes, out of context use doesn't make sense--think of presenting the coffee club card during a border crossing.

Other times, however, it's a critical part of establishing a relationship or transferring trust. As an example, you might use a credit card to pay for your purchase at the coffee shop and be asked to present some kind of identity credential. In that case, using your passport at the coffee shop would be out of context, but you'd be doing so because the coffee shop cashier is willing to recognize the government issued passport as a means of establishing your identity.

One identity credential that's frequently used out of context is the driver's license. Interestingly, if you ask the head of your State's driver's license bureau if the driver's license is an identity document, you'll probably be told no--its official purpose is to authorize you to drive.

A recent move by the Utah Legislature to issue "driving privilege cards" (DPC) instead of driver's licenses to illegal aliens belies that. You might be scratching your head and asking why anyone would issue a driver's license to someone in the country illegally. The answer is very practical. Illegal aliens drive. When they drive, they sometimes get into accidents. Without a driver's license, they can't get auto insurance. By not giving illegal aliens a driving permit of some kind, you create a huge pool of uninsured motorists.

Issuing a DPC sends the message, loud and clear, that the driver's license is an identity document that is frequently used out of its original context. Of course, as a private citizen, you're free to recognize the driving privilege card as an identity document if you like. I suspect, for example, that it will be readily accepted as proof of age by convenience stores that want to sell beer and cigarettes. That kind of out of context use will continue.

But, the legislation specifically rules out certain contexts. For example, the DPC cannot be used to identify yourself when you fly. Nor can it be used to claim certain government benefits. Getting a driver's license opens the door to all kinds of opportunities in our country. The intent is that the DPC will not.

There's a dark side to the DPC as well. I can be pretty sure that anyone presenting a DPC is illegal. This opens the door to all kinds of discrimination and abuse. Whether the DPC catches on remains to be seen. The Federal Real ID legislation will probably force other States down this or similar paths.