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House authorizes fake driver’s license program over objections

The Washington House has voted to allow the Department of Licensing to continue to issue fictitious driver’s licenses to undercover police officers. But with new safeguards. Even so, the vote late Tuesday came over the objections of some Republicans.

The Department of Licensing has issued so-called confidential driver’s licenses for decades. But it never had direct authorization from the Legislature to do so. 

The program is supposed to be for law enforcement officers. But we reported recently that since 2007 the agency has issued nearly 300 fictitious licenses to the CIA—an agency not considered law enforcement.

On the floor of the House, Republican Matt Shea said the Department of Licensing “stonewalled” requests for details on the program.

 “We weren’t able to get information such as a policy manual to understand how the program even operated so we could put appropriate sideboards on there," Shea said.

Licensing says it can’t release any information about its work with the feds because of nondisclosure agreements and an unspecified federal law. Gov. Jay Inslee says the state’s confidential license program poses no threat to the security, privacy or civil liberties of Washington residents. 

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.