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House report slams Nixon's office for 'indifference' to Missourians' privacy

4:41 pm on Fri, 10.25.13

Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration showed an “indifference” to Missourians’ privacy rights, according to a report from a House committee examining the controversy over the Department of Revenue’s handling of personal documents, including conceal-carry permits.

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, speaks with reporters about a committee report on the Department of Revenue's handling of source documents for drivers licenses.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Beacon
Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, speaks with reporters about a committee report on the Department of Revenue's handling of source documents for drivers licenses.

State Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia,  detailed the final report at a press conference at the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in O’Fallon. 

“Government has certain functions and government has to do certain things,” he said.

“And sometimes there are  questions that have to be private. But they all have the expectation that should be secure. There’s certainly a strong indication based upon this that we really can’t trust our state government to keep private information.”

The report concluded that “the acquisition of equipment and software to gather biometric information on citizens is clearly in contravention of” a 2009 law that bars the state from complying with the federal REAL ID law.

“By taking these actions, the executive branch has shown an indifference to privacy rights of all Missourians and the mandates" in the 2009 law, the report said.

Cox said the report had been sent to DOR and the governor shortly before the 2:30 p.m. press conference. Spokespeople for Nixon and the Department of Revenue did not respond to the Beacon’s request for comment.

Cox chaired the committee -- which included sheriffs and prosecutors from around the state. It was formed after Republicans blasted the Department of Revenue over a new process for issuing driver’s licenses.

That process involved scanning and retaining copies of personal documents – birth certificates, passports and marriage licenses – that people must submit before getting a driver’s license.

The furor over the scanned documents arose when some gun owners complained that the retained documents initially included concealed-carry permits, which the bearers often add as an “endorsement’’ on their driver’s license.

State Republicans were further incensed this year when the head of the Missouri Highway Patrol acknowledged that the state’s list of people with conceal-carry licenses had been turned over twice to the Social Security Administration in connection with a federal investigation.

Cox's report said that that revenue department “continued to implement the components of the federal Real ID Act by scanning and retaining source documents."

Nixon had repeatedly denied such assertions he was trying to implement the federal Real ID Act aimed at tracking potential terrorists.

However, his allies have noted that many Republicans in the General Assembly had initially lauded the Act when it was first enacted by Congress in 2005. The General Assembly soon passed a state version that imposed more identification requirements for people applying for a drivers license.

According to the website of the Department of Homeland Security, the Real ID law "establishes minimum requirements for the production and issuance of state-issued driver’s licenses" to "prevent fraud" and to "deter acts of terrorism."

Officials with the Revenue Department have warned legislators that, while the state hasn't officially complied with REAL ID, failure to comply with some of its provisions could result in the federal government rejecting Missouri drivers licenses as adequate identification to board airplanes.

Even so, the General Assembly trimmed some of the department's allocation from the current fiscal year's budget, in an attempt to force Nixon's administration to make changes by the time legislators reconvene in January. Instead, Nixon ordered that the department's staffing be cut to reflect the reduced budget.

The report (which can be read here) makes three specific recommendations:

  • Eliminate all appropriations to DOR for gathering or retaining source documents, except for verifying immigration status.
  • Require the executive branch to implement administrative rules through the “process established by law, when appropriate, to ensure adequate penalties exist for non-compliance.” It also recommended that the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules review any agency's internal policies and procedures for implementing a state law.
  • Have the governor and DOR, among other things, commit to "not amend procedures for applying for a driver's license or identification card in order to comply with the goals or standards of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005." It also suggested that DOR should report to the budget chairs of both the House and Senate on an annual basis "any changes of procedures relating to issuance of drivers licenses and non-drivers’ licenses."

Cox said the biggest takeaway was the Department of Revenue’s “avoidance of the administrative system by not adopting administrative procedures.” He added the "reasons we have administrative rules are so that the public knows what the public knows what state agencies are doing and their rights are protected."

Nixon signed legislation to bar the state’s Department of Revenue, and its Motor Vehicles Division, from scanning and retaining copies of personal documents used to provide identification for a drivers license. 

Cox said if that bill had been the law before, “this would have never of occurred.”

“The retention of these documents is what gave the state the opportunity to hurt the privacy of 163,000 people, whose documents went to the federal government,” Cox said.

Before signing that bill, Nixon ordered the Department of Revenue to stop scanning conceal and carry information. He eventually signed legislation that transfers the responsibility of issuing conceal-carry permits and permit renewals to local sheriff's offices.

Cox supports return to 'local issuance'

While Cox noted that the Department of Revenue isn’t scanning or retaining source materials any more, it is still issuing driver’s licenses through the mail. That’s a change from prior years, when licenses were issued directly at "fee offices," the private operations overseen by the department and where people go to apply for a drivers license.

(Nixon’s office has said that issuing driver's licenses at fee offices is more expensive and invites the possibility of fraud.)

But Cox said that the Department of Revenue should stop what he calls “central issuance,” his term for sending driver’s licenses through the mail.

“We should go back to local issuance,” Cox said. “And if you’re not retaining the documents, you can trust the employees of those agencies – since you’re not keeping the documents – to do a local inspection of them and to approve or disapprove the driver’s license based upon their lawful presence.”

The report states that “the citizens of our state were promised in 2006 that they would only have to produce source documents one time and not upon each subsequent license renewal."

Cox argued that he didn’t think it was “logical” for citizens to show source documents – like birth certificates – each time when renewing driver’s licenses.

Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies contributed information to this story.

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