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SWIPE addresses the gathering of data from drivers' licenses, a form of data-collection that businesses are starting to practice in the United States. Bars and convenience stores were the first to utilize license scanners in the name of age and ID verification. These businesses, however, admit they reap huge benefits from this practice beyond catching underage drinkers and smokers with fake IDs. With one swipe—that often occurs without notification or consent by the cardholder—a business acquires data that can be used to build a valuable consumer database free of charge. Post 9/11, other businesses, like hospitals and airports, are installing license readers in the name of security. And still other businesses are joining the rush to scan realizing the information contained on drivers' licenses is a potential gold mine. Detailed database records, of course, also benefit law enforcement officers who can now demand this information without court order thanks to the US Patriot Act.

SWIPE brings attention to these practices and enables people to see exactly what is stored on their mysterious strip. Many people are unaware that personal data is even encoded on their license, and, if they do realize this, they probably do not know exactly what information is there.

SWIPE illustrates how this information is used and why businesses and government crave it. Our hope is to encourage thinking beyond the individual self ("I do not care if a bar database has my name and address and time of visit...") toward understanding databases as a discursive, organizational practice and an essential technique of power in today's social field.

With public knowledge there is a chance for public voices, and ultimately resistance.

SWIPE is produced by Beatriz da Costa, Jamie Schulte and Brooke Singer. For more information, please contact info@we-swipe.us. And sign up for our SWIPE mailing list for project updates.

SWIPE News...


SWIPE Toolkit Launches New Interactive Map revealing what information US and Canada are encoding on drivers' licenses

SWIPE Stickers: Create Your Own SWIPE Data Protection Stickers


Radio story about SWIPE on Sourthern California Public Radio/KPCC and shorter version of the same on NPR's All Things Considered (get RealAudio player)

Article about SWIPE on Wired

In the News...

Emerging "Surveillance-Industrial Complex" Is Turbo-Charging Government Monitoring
ACLU Report
August 9, 2004

Department of Justice Press Release
July 21, 2004

Life After Death for CAPPS II?
Ryan Singel
July 16, 2004

Archived Articles