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Treated Like a Terrorist by the DMV

The author tries to renew his drivers license and runs afoul of the catch-a-terrorist system in the DMV.

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I called a number that was kindly provided by the media officer in Pennsylvania, and got through to an actual person in the New York DMV. She told me that the problem came up because when I moved to Pennsylvania and shifted my plates over to my new state of residence, I didn't send my old license plate to New York. Never mind that there's no way I would have known I had to send that plate in. And never mind that I did obtain a new title for the car in Pennsylvania, and that the record of that title transfer is in the national computer system. Any cop with a computer could find that out. Never mind. Eleven years after the fact, New York still needed the plates.

Of course, I'd long since sold that car for junk and didn't have the plates. I didn't even remember what the license number was.

The DMV woman in New York told me I could clear the whole thing up for a $30 charge, which she could take care of with a credit card over the phone.

Note that she had absolutely no way of identifying me, to know that I wasn't a terrorist just paying her $30 so I could get a dreaded Pennsylvania drivers license to use as an ID for whatever nefarious purposes I might have in mind. She just took down the credit card number and bingo, I'm cleared to go. The New York DMV, happy with its little act of extortion, is now notifying the National Driver Register computer that I'm clear, and next week, Pennsylvania's DMV will find my record on the National Driver Register clean and will be ready to renew my license.

This is the DMV and Homeland Security automotive equivalent of the TSA rules that have now every flier taking off her or his shoes (even baby's' booties!), and surrendering tubes of toothpaste and mouthwash at airport security checkpoints.

A fundamental rule about rules should be that if there are records being kept, and if actions are being taken on the basis of those records, then there has to be a way for errors to be corrected by the agency that is maintaining and disseminating those records and by any agency that is acting on the basis of those records. But in the case of America's terrorism fetish, this rule is being violated routinely.

The "no-fly" and the "let-fly-but-first-harass" lists maintained by the TSA, which both reportedly now contain tens of thousands of names, are used by the TSA at airport checkpoints, but developed not by the TSA, but by the dozens of police and intelligence agencies of the federal government -- the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, the ATF, the State Department, the FBI, etc., etc. If your name turns up on the TSA list, and you end up getting strip searched every time you try to fly, the TSA will tell you you're on the list, but they won't tell you who put you there, and they won't take you off either. That has to be done by the agency that reported your name -- the one they won't identify to you. It's straight out of Kafka.

The National Driver Register is the same kind of thing. It collects information about license "problems" from all of the state DMVs, and disseminates that information widely to all the other states, but it doesn't provide any details about what your "problem" might be. It could be anything from conviction of vehicular homicide or DWI to a 15-year old case of being late with a car insurance payment. In fact, DMV officials in both PA and NY, before they had the details, repeatedly referred to my case as a "crime" when no crime had ever been committed. And although, once I had discovered the nature of my particular "transgression," even though the Pennsylvania DMV people agreed that it was a silly reason to withhold my licence renewal, and that in fact I had done nothing wrong and was already fully switched over to a Pennsylvania licence and car registration by the time the New York license was "withheld," they said they were "powerless" to renew my license because of the federal law.

 
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