Virginia Weighs Benefits, Costs of Smart Card Licenses

Questions of costs, security mark debate about going smart with ID cards

It could be employed by tech-savvy stalkers, or a Big Brother government could use it to instantly learn the identities of every cardholder at a protest rally, Calabrese said.

Such cards exist, said Robert Turbeville, a vice president of Saflink Corp. The company manufactures a variety of smart cards for security-sensitive agencies such as the Defense Department. But nobody recommends cards capable of being remotely scanned for driving licenses, he said.

Aside from security concerns, he said, such cards would eventually cause health problems such as cancer from prolonged, close exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

There are more practical concerns, warned Rich Carter, director of technology standards and programs for AAMVA.

Smart card licenses will cost the state about $5 to $10 apiece to create, four to eight times more than the current costs, and police and agencies will have to be outfitted with card readers and other equipment, which can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. And no matter how much data they contain, they're only as good as the motor vehicle agency worker responsible for spotting impostors.

"The terrorists of 9/11 fell into the category of what we would call impostors, and the only way to guard against that is to improve your processes before you issue the license,'' Carter said.

Byron's panel is supposed to report to the General Assembly by November. Byron said meeting the deadline is unlikely because this year's legislative session lasted nearly twice as long as its scheduled 60 days, throwing the subcommittee months behind.