Retired airman says Italian system raises specter of identity theft
February 13, 2005
NAPLES, Italy — When a radar tagged John Thomas doing 95 kilometers per hour in a 50-kilometer-per-hour zone on a highway in Belluno, he admitted his guilt by paying the 350-euro fine.
Then came notice from the “officio del prefetto,” equivalent to a provincial chief of police, informing him that his driving privilege in Italy was suspended for 30 days. The letter ordered him to surrender his U.S. driver’s license for that period.
Thomas complied, reluctantly, and that’s where he says a potential nightmare begins.
At the local Carabinieri office on Aviano Air Base, he had to furnish personal information such as Social Security number, birth date, birthplace, work and home address — information Italian authorities collect and store in a database.
“It’s a force protection issue for me,” said the 41-year-old Air Force retiree, now a construction project inspector at Aviano for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
With his military and civilian careers combined, he has lived in Italy for 22 years.
“I’m fluent in Italian. I read the papers, watch the news. I know what’s going on,” he said. “There’s a constant battle over terrorist movements here, just like in other countries. There are [people with] anti-American sentiments here. With information in a huge database, how are they going to prevent our information from falling in the hands of someone who doesn’t like us?
“Our own people can’t be trusted, so how can we expect the host nation to protect us?” he said, citing, as an example, the sentencing last month of a 22-year-old contract clerk at the Pentagon for selling credit card numbers and identity information of Air Force personnel in exchange for drugs.
But the sharing of information with local authorities is not a concern, said Lia Scandola, Aviano’s traffic safety manager.
“If you can’t trust police forces, who can you trust?” Scandola asked. “They’re not going to share it with anyone.”
The U.S. military takes steps to protect servicemembers’ personal information, but if you break the law, you’re subject to the laws of the host nation, said Cmdr. Kenneth O’Rourke, executive officer for Judge Advocate General at Naval Support Activity Naples.
“They’re getting data the same way as the sheriff in Podunk County would get it,” he said. “There is just certain information that is releasable to local authorities or that you have to supply to them. And if you break the law, you give your name and address and personal information to the local authorities.”
The Italian government recently began creating a database of all drivers’ information, whether Italian or not. A recent change in Italian law that requires authorities to deduct points from a driver’s record instead of the record of the registered vehicle owner helped spur creation of the database.
Drivers with Italian licenses begin with 20 points on their records, with points deducted if they commit infractions. If they reach zero, licenses are revoked.
Americans aren’t governed by the point system, even if their information is inputted in the database when ticketed for driving infractions. What that means is that Italian authorities cannot permanently revoke a U.S. citizen’s driving privilege. But they can suspend it, Scandola said.
Americans are not on the point system because they are not issued Italian driver’s licenses.
Instead they receive translation sheets of their U.S. driver’s license, said Lt. Diane Holcombe, foreign criminal jurisdiction officer at NSA Naples.
The translation sheet, which must be carried with the driver’s license, contains information such as license issue and expiration dates, the driver’s command, height, weight, hair and eye color, and Social Security number. This is the information that must be turned over to Italian authorities if the license is suspended.