Challenges await state governments as the May 11, 2008, deadline approaches for implementing drivers' licenses that meet the Real ID Act specifications.

But many states, including West Virginia, forged ahead and developed secure licenses they hope will comply with specifications eventually handed down from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Real ID Act requires states to implement advanced security features within drivers' licenses -- some of which are still undefined by the DHS. After 2008, states will be required to verify a photo identity document or a non-photo document that contains the applicant's full legal name and date of birth. States must also verify the applicant's name, primary address, date of birth, and either a Social Security number or proof of Social Security ineligibility.

Specifically how those verifications are made is still being determined.

"We're kind of in a Catch-22," said Dave Bolyard, director of drivers' services for West Virginia. "We're a little reluctant to spend money on a project that we don't know whether we'll be in compliance or not. We're set up to spend the money, but we don't want to spend it foolishly."

Bolyard said the state contracted with Viisage, which specializes in identity-verification technologies, to provide assistance with meeting the criteria of the Real ID Act.

"We're still waiting for some guidance from the federal government to give us more specific directions," Bolyard said. "We have also talked with the vendor to ask them if they would present a demonstration that would make us more in compliance to what we think the Real ID Act is asking for at this time."

Ahead of the Curve

West Virginia began issuing licenses with advanced security features in August 2005, after a two-year development period.

This puts the state ahead of the curve on Real ID Act compliance, according to Chris DeColli, director of sales for Viisage.

"Some of the things they're doing right now that the Real ID Act requires puts West Virginia ahead of a lot of people -- things like SAVE verification," DeColli said.

The Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlements (SAVE) system automatically checks a national database of immigration data. It's used to determine a person's legal status in the country and will be a Real ID Act requirement, according to DeColli.

"It really goes out and says, 'Are you here in this country legally? Are you authorized to be here? What kind of a visa are you on?' Things like that, that show you have a legal presence to be in this country."

West Virginia was already using dual biometrics on physical drivers' licenses, but has since deployed biometrics throughout the entire business process of issuing a driver's license and checking for fraud.

"The state uses biometrics for operator log-on for the workstations, for internal controls and auditing," DeColli said. "The state is doing a lot of things that are really advanced in terms of what the industry is looking at."

West Virginia uses both one-to-one and one-to-many biometrics when processing photos of driver's license applicants.

The applicant's photo is taken, and the system then compares the photo to the last photo issued for the applicant, if there was one: That's one-to-one biometrics.

"If you come in and we've had your picture before, it will detect whether you are one and the same individual," Bolyard said. "We've got it pretty well down to a science."

Every night after business hours, the system runs all photos and compares photos issued that day to all other photos in the system: That's one-to-many biometrics.

When the system finds two or more photos that match, it will generate a report by the next morning for the fraud unit for investigation.

"If you have two drivers' licenses under two names in West Virginia, the system will indicate that so we can investigate," Bolyard said. "Sometimes we'll send a fraud unit out to the residence, or if we still think it's fraud and can't locate anyone, then we will suspend the license in the system. They may have a license to produce but if a police officer checks, it will show up as a suspended license."

Fingerprints are also used as a biometric, but are provided by citizens voluntarily.

"It was something we tried to make mandatory in our previous contract, and the attorney general's office refused to let us do that," Bolyard said, noting that slightly more than half of the applicants provide a fingerprint.

It is mandatory, however, for DMV employees issuing licenses to log on to the system by submitting a fingerprint.

"Anytime an operator logs on to the system to issue a driver's license, one of the log-on features is that they have to provide their finger image," Bolyard said. "Once they do that and they're on the system, they can start with the first applicant who walks through the door."

The operator must also submit a fingerprint before printing each applicant's document. "That way we know that it's the same individual who logged on, and we have reports that will tell us if there's a problem with the log-on," Bolyard said.

Temporary Framework

With some of the Real ID Act specifications still undetermined, guidelines from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) serve as a framework for much of what West Virginia and others are doing with drivers' licenses until all Real ID Act requirements are defined.

The two-dimensional barcode on the back of the state's driver's license is an example of that.

"We have asked that [the barcode] be AAMVA compliant," Bolyard said.

AAMVA has said the PDF417 barcode is the standard, according to DeColli. "That's important to note because one of the things DHS is going to bring out in the Real ID Act is standard, machine-readable technology."

The PDF417 is a two-dimensional, rectangular barcode that can store as many as 1,800 printable ASCII characters or 1,100 binary characters per symbol. A standard barcode will ensure compatibility across the country.

"We want consistency," Bolyard said. "If you go through a police scanner in California or West Virginia, it's still going to provide a reading."

The new licenses have a "ghost image" of the applicant's photo -- a lighter, smaller image of the licensee in a corner of the card that's difficult to scan and duplicate because it is so light. There's also a hologram with features visible only under a black light.

Cost Adjustments

West Virginia's contract with Viisage is on a price-per-card basis, and the current price is $1.89 per card. The contract is for four and a half years and the volume of new licenses or renewals is about 500,000 per year -- making the estimated worth of the contract $4.25 million, though there could be added costs as standards are developed for the Real ID Act.

"Anytime we need to make a change, they give us a price on what the change will be and we pretty much have to pay it, if it's a reasonable fee. If it's not, we negotiate and come up with some kind of reasonable fee," Bolyard said.

An additional fee would amount to an additional cost per license, which would be absorbed by the state's annual budget. The Legislature and the governor must approve any increase in driver's license costs to citizens.

Though it's most certain states will have to make adjustments as the Real ID Act requirements are developed, it's better to be ahead of the curve than behind.

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor