Alliance Endorses Bar Code for Real ID
Reported by Stew Magnuson
A consortium of government and industries involved in document security has recommended two-dimensional bar codes to fulfill a requirement for machine-readable personal data on driver’s licenses and other official identification cards, when the Real ID Act goes into effect in 2008.
The act calls for the Department of Homeland Security to specify a technology that can be uniformly applied throughout the United States to replace the hodgepodge of current systems. Secretary Michael Chertoff has indicated that he favors radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, which contain small antennae that can be read by low frequency transceivers.
Reed Stager, chair of the Document Security Alliance government affairs committee, told National Defense that 2-D barcodes were chosen over RFID because they are more secure and less expensive, and the technology is already in use in 45 states.
While the alliance has no formal authority, its recommendations carry some weight. About 70 industry partners and several government agencies involved in document fraud issues are part of the organization. These include the FBI, Social Security Administration, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Departments of Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security.
Privacy groups have expressed concern that RFID chips placed in IDs that are carried in wallets or handbags could be surreptitiously read by criminals through transceivers.
Bar codes cannot be read without the user’s knowledge, Stager said. Also, the additional fees for new IDs would be on par with current fees since the technology is widely used. The watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste, estimates that RFID-based IDs would cost about $90.
The 9/11 commission called for more stringent and uniform regulations in the issuance of birth certificates and driver’s licenses. The Real ID Act calls for states to comply with national standards by May 2008.
The alliance also recommended updating and refreshing ID anti-counterfeiting technologies on cards every five years. This must also be done uniformly, Stager pointed out, because criminals will “always take the paths of least resistance.” If one state’s ID is easier to fake than others, they will gravitate toward the one with the older technologies.
The alliance believes each card should have at least two covert authentication features, which cannot be seen without special technology, such as micro-writing or ultra-violet light, both of which are currently being employed by many states.
Before an identity can be verified, applicants must present such documents as Social Security cards and birth certificates. Ensuring these easily faked paper documents are not counterfeit poses several problems, Stager said. The alliance recommends scanning into a database all the so-call “genesis” documents, so they can be checked. Social Security cards can be verified through a national database. About 85 percent of states currently do so, however, birth certificates pose a “monumental problem,” he said. More than 14,000 public entities currently issue such documents, and creating a national database would take several years, he said.