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Fictitious driver license program may get more safeguards

Stricter guidelines may come to a program that lets undercover police officers in Washington obtain fictitious driver licenses. The Washington House could vote soon on a measure that would require additional safeguards to ensure the false IDs are not misused.

They’re called confidential driver licenses. They’re the real deal but the information on them is made up: the name, birthdate, address. The new law would explicitly state that these IDs are only for undercover or covert law enforcement activities. Also, officers who get one of these licenses would have to surrender it back to the Department of Licensing within 30 days of the undercover assignment ending.

Republican Jason Overstreet wrote the stricter rules into a measure that authorizes the Department of Licensing to continue operating the program.

“Outside of covert or undercover law enforcement work and/or assignment these things should not be issued and should be returned immediately when those operations and/or assignments end.”

Also, an officer who retires or is fired would have to immediately turn in the fictitious license.

The Department of Licensing has been running the confidential program for years without formal authorization from the Legislature. Currently more than 1,000 of these driver’s licenses are in circulation. The agency says it has never turned down an application for one.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.