Automated license system now is tool for state law enforcement officials

Correspondent

Madison It’s been more than three years since the Wisconsin DNR
implemented its automated license issuance system (ALIS), replacing
a paper-based system for issuing licenses, and now the new system
is being used for more than just issuing licenses it has taken on a
role for law enforcement.

Amid initial concerns by sportsmen to the requirement of
providing their social security numbers as identification for the
system, the DNR released a brochure entitled, Frequently Asked
Questions About the Requirement to Provide a Social Security Number
When Purchasing a Hunting or Fishing License. The brochure can be
found at most ALIS agent locations and was designed to answer
questions concerning privacy issues and why the DNR is requiring
the number.

Some sportsmen argue that social security numbers were created
to deal specifically with social security benefits and tax
information only not to be used for identification purposes.

“We initially received some negative feedback from customers and
this is a very sensitive issue,” said Diane Brookbank, DNR Bureau
of Licensing ALIS project manager. “It is sensitive to all of us,
but when you look at the volume we have 2.1 million customers and
when we look at the volume of calls and letters that we handled on
this issue, it wasn’t a majority of our customers.”

According to the DNR’s brochure which addresses the DNR’s
requirement of social security numbers a 1998 state law, found
under Section 29.024 (2g) of the Wisconsin Statutes, required the
DNR to obtain the number before issuing licenses; the Federal
Social Security Act (42 USCS Sec. 405) allows states to require it
for specific purposes relating to some licenses.

“The state law requires it. The federal law allows it. The state
law is much more stringent than the federal law. We didn’t have any
choice,” Brookbank said.

ALIS, which keeps information on resident and nonresident
sportsmen in a database at the central DNR office in Madison, and
is managed by an outside database contractor, Central Bank, of
Missouri, has become an important law enforcement tool for
conservation wardens, according to John Welke, DNR Bureau of Law
Enforcement investigator. “We routinely work with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (FWS) to do joint investigations on hunters who
hunt in Wisconsin, and Lacey Act violations a federal law that says
that if you harvest a game animal illegally in some state, and you
transport that animal cross state or country lines, that then
becomes a federal violation and we frequently get calls from FWS to
use our ALIS to track these individuals to find out what licenses
they might have bought.

“But more commonly, when people from outside the state come to
Wisconsin to hunt, (the FWS) calls us to find out if an individual
bought a license and they can use that information from the ALIS
system as a tool to confirm information to further their
investigation.”

Welke said individuals’ social security numbers are the key to
ALIS being a successful game law enforcement tool. He said the
number is a unique identifier and, that with it, the DNR is able to
track suspected poachers and individuals providing fraudulent
information to obtain additional licenses illegally.

ALIS is also being used by outside law enforcement and various
state agencies to track everyone from “deadbeat dads” accused of
child support delinquency to convicted felons.

“I’ve had a number of calls from the Department of Corrections
over the last couple of years we’ve had ALIS up and running, where
they have an individual who is either on probation or parole, and
the probation agents may call me to find out if that particular
individual is buying hunting, fishing, or trapping licenses,
primarily hunting, because it involves firearms,” Welke said, “What
they look at is that if he’s buying a hunting license, there’s
probably a good chance that he’s not just donating the money to the
DNR.”

But there’s another problem surfacing within the system and this
one isn’t an operating bug.

“We went through the second license year with ALIS and we had
over 20,000 duplicate social security numbers in the system,” Welke
said. “One might surmise that there are a few data entry errors
that might of duplicated numbers, but I don’t think 20,000 is just
data entry errors. I think there are people out there who are
providing false social security numbers either because they don’t
know theirs, or because they don’t want DNR to know their number,
so they give a false one.

“I think it’s fair to say that there’s quite an amount of
license fraud going on out there.”

In July of 2001, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD)
got its interface online with DNR’s ALIS, to track child support
delinquent parents. To date, 250 customers have been denied as a
result of the system, according to Brookbank.

But why is the DNR a state agency that was created by the
Legislature in 1967 to manage the state’s natural resources
involved at all in issues pertaining to child support and even the
tracking down of convicted felons?

“That’s probably a fair question,” said Welke, “I think you have
to look at law enforcement as a community. When I say law
enforcement, I mean any of the federal agencies, any of the state
agencies, any of the county agencies like the sheriff’s
departments, city police departments and even villages. And we work
with one another to help each other in our respective areas.”

The future of ALIS

Brookbank said she expects the cost of the system to go down due
to improvements in system operations and feedback from customer
surveys and focus groups for system upgrades. System costs were
$1,934,600 in Fiscal Year 1999 (start-up year, not a full year);
$3,024,057 in Fiscal Year 2000; $3,060,477 in Fiscal Year 2001; and
$2,620,898 so far in 2002.

The next development, according to Brookbank, is getting more
licensing features through ALIS geared up for the internet. Since
November of 2001, applicants can buy licenses online through the
DNR website.

“We’re planning on offering preference reporting and winner
status on your permit applications all online. So a customer can go
and look to see if they were awarded a turkey permit, for example.
We also will be offering a service online that allows the customer
to update their address information from the internet.”

Licenses may be bought online at:
www.wildlifelicense.com/wi.

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