By Zack Hill, The Raleigh Telegram
RALEIGH – Consumers across the country are voicing concern at the growing practice of retail stores where they scan driver’s licenses for routine purchases and exchanges.
A Target customer at one of the new stores in Cary near Cary Parkway told The Raleigh Telegram that they were shocked when a Target cashier scanned their driver’s license into the store’s register.
“I was buying some beer and when the cashier asked me for my license, I thought she just wanted to verify my age,” said the customer. ”The next thing I know she’s scanning the bar code on the back with the scanner, which I clearly did not give them permission to do.”
The Target cashier told the customer that all driver’s licenses are scanned when purchasing alcohol or other restricted items such as spray paint.
“I thought it was pretty sneaky and unethical to steal my personal information over a few dollars of beer, particularly when I was not informed of what she was going to do with my license or the info on it,” added the customer.
The customer said he told the cashier to take the beer off of his total bill and that he would not be shopping there anymore. Not all Target stores have the scanner policy but many of the newer stores with the most up to date registers seem to have the new driver’s license scanners.
Although the scans are typically part of store policy to ensure valid licenses are used to buy restricted products, the amount of information encrypted in the barcode on the back of many state driver’s licenses has some wondering exactly what the store is learning about customers through the scans, and what the stores are doing with the information gathered.
States like Nevada and Massachusetts currently encrypt social security numbers on licenses along with the cardholder’s address and date of birth that is typically written on the front of the card. It is not known publicly what exactly is encrypted on North Carolina licenses, but Social Security numbers are now tied to your driver’s license as part of the federal REAL ID program.
Noelle Talley, public information officer with the North Carolina Department of Justice, told the Telegram that her understanding is “that the information encrypted on the bar code on the back of North Carolina driver’s licenses is the exact same information printed on the front, with the exception of the person’s photograph and signature.”
It should be noted that uniform citations printed out by police officers for such items as speeding tickets do indeed have the last four digits of the driver’s Social Security number on the printed forms, leading one to believe that Social Security information is either encrypted on the license or in a state database that is tied to the driver’s license number.
Talley also said that several court cases has indicated that if a person provides a license to be scanned, he or she has voluntarily given them any information on the card.
The Raleigh Telegram contacted the headquarters for the national retail chain Target to ask them about their scanning policy.
Meghan Mike, a member of Target’s communications staff, told the Telegram late last year that the new stores have “several processes that require our cashiers to obtain information from a guest’s driver’s license or government-issued ID.”
“These processes allow Target to control the sale and distribution of restricted products, while also protecting the privacy of our guests,” she added. “In addition, these processes help prevent fraudulent purchases of a restricted item and aides the cashier by accurately recording required information.”
Target certainly isn’t the only store that has adopted the policy of scanning their customers’ ID’s. Nationally, stores including Rite Aid, Victoria’s Secret, 7-Eleven and Best Buy have come under fire from consumers for the policy when returning items.
Mike went on to say that “Target only retains the data that is relevant to the type of transaction and maintains it with the store receipt. Additionally, information obtained during the processes is not used for any other purposes.”
This answer probably wouldn’t alleviate the fears of many. A 2002 New York Times article on the topic quoted Boston bar owner Paul Barclay as saying that the scans are “not just an ID check, it’s a tool.” Barclay could keep information on customers’ sex, age, ZIP code and other characteristics and use this information to build a customer database.
In addition, since the information on the North Carolina license is encrypted, it would require Target to unencrypt all of the information on the back of the license before they could retrieve the “relevant” information that they say they need. In other words, they might not need all of the information but during the unencryption process they probably would obtain a copy of it.
Further, since some states have said that they do indeed put the Social Security information on their driver’s license bar codes, it is likely that Target — whether intentional or not — is scanning some customer’s Social Security numbers into their system when they scan the cards.
Since the company’s data retention policy is not entirely public and it is not known how they dispose of the “irrelevant” information or how long they keep it, customers are understandably wary of having their licenses scanned.
This kind of profiling concerns many of the customers opposed to the scanning policy when information like a Social Security number is potentially involved. Especially when it’s unknown exactly what information is being gathered, who is maintaining the data and who has access to it.
“I felt like I had just given up my most personal of information just to buy $5 worth of beer,” said the customer at the Cary Target store. ”I certainly will find other stores to shop at that don’t want to steal my identity from me without my permission. We’re not all sheep who have to blindly do whatever some corporation tells us, just because it’s their so-called policy.” ::
Article Posted: Saturday, January 26th, 2013.