April 2, 2002 1:15 PM PST

Privacy advocates sue over national IDs

A privacy group said Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against the federal Office of Homeland Security in an attempt to gain access to information about a proposed national identification system.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said it filed its suit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking the expedited processing and the release of records by the Office of Homeland Security.

Headed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the federal office was created as a part of the executive branch in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. It seeks to develop a national strategy for protecting the United States against terrorist threats or attacks.

According to the lawsuit, the Office of Homeland Security is "drafting legislation, and planning and designing security systems, that could implicate the privacy rights of American citizens." The lawsuit said proposals include requiring that driver's licenses issued to noncitizens be tied to visas, developing biometric identification systems, and establishing a so-called trusted-flier program that would create federally issued identity cards.

"This would be a very critical test of open government," Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director, said in a conference call. "Whatever policy proposal the Office of Homeland Security pursues, it should be done in the bright light of day...This is less about privacy and very much about how do we preserve open government."

A spokeswoman for the Office of Homeland Security denied that the agency intends to propose national ID card, however. She declined to comment on EPIC's suit.

"The Office of Homeland Security is not considering any plans for a system of national ID cards, and we have not seen a copy of the suit," said agency spokeswoman Illa Brown. "This is a routine matter that would be referred to and handled by the Department of Justice."

EPIC said it requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, on March 20 that the Office of Homeland Security release records--including memos, reports and draft legislation--that relate to a standard driver's license, the trusted-flier program and the use of biometric technology to identify citizens and visitors to the United States.

EPIC said the Office of Homeland Security to date has not responded to its request.

 

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