Toward a Secure Personal Identification

Volume 1, Number 4 (Summer 1991)
Issue theme: "What makes a nation?"

When it comes to tamper-proof identification cards, the nation could learn a lesson from California's Department of Motor Vehicles. Complete with holograms, encoded magnetic strips and super-sharp photographs, the DMV's new high-tech driver's licenses unveiled last week could be a model for the type of national ID card necessary to make immigration reform work.

The new documents have two attributes that are particularly appealing (1) They are virtually counterfeit-proof because the information they contain is embedded in plastic, not merely typed on easily altered paper. Any attempt at forgery almost certainly would destroy the license. At the very least, it would notably alter the mosaic of holograms of the state and DMV logos that stretch across the document's face.

(2) A magnetic strip on the back of the licenses, encoded with all pertinent data, allows verification of information to occur almost instantly via readout devices connected with DMV records. This allows merchants accepting checks to quickly verify names and addresses. And law-enforcement officials, using a more comprehensive system, can instantly retrieve even more detailed information - from a thumb print to a check for warrants and outstanding tickets.

Sound expensive? Actually, it's a money saver. The DMV estimates that the more-automated system will weed at least a million Californians a year out of DMV lines, at substantial savings to taxpayers. A cost-effective, tamper-proof, instantly informative ID card. That prospect should appeal to federal officials seeking solutions to the rampant fraud undermining current immigration policy. The new California driver's license proves that the technology is available. The only missing ingredient is political will. [From the San Diego (Calif) Tribune, January 21, 1991]