WASHINGTON, September 30, 2013 — Virginia has created an identity database of the state’s residents for use by Virginia agencies. The database was built from using Department of Motor Vehicles records.
State officials told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the $4.3 million system will help agencies uncover fraud and benefit to residents who want or need to do business with the state electronically.
Craig C. Markva, Department of Medical Assistance Services Spokesman, told the newspaper that this system will be helpful because when someone creates an account online, the Virginia government will be able to use this system to verify that the person is who they are claiming to be.
The fact that identifying information about Virginia residents, which has been provided to the DMV with the belief that it was being used for the sole purpose of that department, is now being used by other agencies and being passed around from agency to agency without the resident’s knowledge could leave many unnerved.
The United States Bureau of Justice reports that in 2010, 7 percent of U.S. households experienced identity theft. It is a large enough concern that the United States government has multiple pages on its website dedicated to the education of securing ones electronic information and even has a toll free phone number for additional help. It is then surprising to learn that the state government itself is taking the personal information.
State officials report that participation in the program is completely voluntary but it seems that the only way to not participate in the program would be to no conduct any business with a state agency online since that is when it will automatically be used for the verification. As more and more services become primarily offered online, it will be considerably more difficult to still conduct business in person.
According to Secure ID News, the motivation for this program was the Affordable Care Act. With the implementation of “Obamacare” Virginia will have more than 240,000 residents using Medicaid. The hope is that this system will assist with enrollment and prevent any possible fraud.
There has been no public release by the state of Virginia about the personal information of all Virginia licensed drivers and ID holders being passed on to Virginia Information Technologies Agency, Department of Social Services and Department of Medical Assistance Services.
The ACLU expressed to The Richmond Times that it sees the lack of public disclosure as a major problem. Claire Guthrie Gastanage, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia told the Richmond-Times Dispatch “When we allow governments to do that, it facilitates and empowers things that we might not want to have happen if the wrong people get into power.”
The Commonwealth Authentication program is not the only planned program in which the government will be using private information of Virginia residents.
In 2012, Virginia was awarded funds to create a pilot program of the White House initiative of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace program which will hopefully lead to improvements in security of online transactions.
One of the uses of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) would be to verify that an individual is over the age of 18 without needing to give away their birth date.
According to Wired magazine, NSTIC would create an ecosystem that would let people securely validate their identities for when they are doing banking or looking at health records and allows them to remain anonymous while on the internet at other websites.
NSTIC is expected to take more time before it is completed because it will be larger and multifaceted but it will also start with records from the Virginia DMV.
Both of these programs have received a large amount of criticism based on privacy concerns.
Civil liberties organizations joined with other consumer rights groups and requested that the White House provide a clearer understanding as to what safeguards were going to be in place in the NSTIC program to protect individual’s privacy. In April 2011, the administration released the final guidelines. The reaction to the release was mostly positive. The consumer activists have kept their eye on this program and have contributed to some of the initiatives.
As for the Commonwealth Authentication System, there are no plans for public debate or discussion of the initiative.
This report was written with information provided by the Associated Press
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