Now the only state that doesn't allow information to be scanned from drivers' licenses, Nebraska may soon let store clerks do more than just look at them when selling alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets.
On Monday, state lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill (LB261) that would allow retailers to electronically scan the bar codes on the backs of state-issued drivers' licenses to determine buyers' ages. Supporters say it will make it easier for clerks to ensure they don't sell to kids. Opponents worry that residents would lose control of personal information that could be used to take advantage of them.
"There's more and more information out there on us, it's scary," said Sen. Dave Pankonin of Louisville, who recalled a major data breach last year that required a bank where he is a board member to issue new debit cards to customers.
Supporters won out, saying that in an age where people regularly dump personal information into minicomputers by using debit cards and the like, it doesn't make sense that Nebraska is the only state where basic information can't be taken from licenses.
State Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney counted nine cards in his wallet that can be swiped or scanned.
"I have no idea what information is on the back of that strip, but we know what information is on the back of the driver's license," he said.
Currently, only the courts and police can swipe drivers' licenses. But the only information that is revealed is already visible on the front of the cards, said the director of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Under federal law, the DMV isn't allowed to release drivers' license numbers, addresses and the like, director Beverly Neth said. The state legislation would allow retailers to gather only drivers' ages and license numbers, Neth said. They would be trusted not to take more of the information, such as addresses, and use it in illegal ways, such as marketing products.
Neth said that could be risky.
"You're only supposed to store two bits of information," she said. "But sitting in front them is a bunch of information about a person. We're putting a lot of trust in retailers."
One benefit to retailers, said the senator who introduced the bill, is that they would not have to calculate customers' ages because scanning the license bar codes will give them that instead of the dates customers were born.
Sen. Kent Rogert of Tekamah also said the bill would allow licenses to be scanned when checks are used, reducing the likelihood that stolen checks would be accepted.