"Teen drinking is very bad. / Yo I got a fake ID though." -- Rapper J Kwon

For the U.S., a country with relatively puritanical laws when it comes to young adults and drinking, the "fake ID" has long been a pop culture topic.  But fake IDs may be a dying breed thanks to new technologies which New York and several other states are rolling out

I. Fake IDs Remain a Problem in an Era of Digital-Quality Fakes

New York is reportedly the most popular state to get a fake ID. Sites like brazenly advertise "bulletproof" fake IDs; for example, that site brags, "Let’s get straight to the point: you’re watching this video because you’re interested in getting a fake ID.  Whether you just want to go to the clubs and have drinks with your friends or you want to start a whole new life complete with a new identity, Social Security number, bank accounts, a credit score and more."

State officials complain that aside from the everyday problem of underage drinking, officials complain that such fake IDs -- while potentially legal if not abused -- can be used to conduct benefit fraud, try to evade child support payments, or even plot terrorism.

Fake IDs
Online sellers use digital scanning and printing technology to sell fake IDs.

J. David Sampson, executive deputy commissioner of the State Department of Motor Vehicles told The New York Times in an interview, "We see the New York driver’s license as the first line of defense."

New York has already successfully employed high-tech strategies such as facial recognition to investigate 13,000 cases of identity fraud over the last three years, resulting in around 2,500 arrests, according to a recent release from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

II. The Switch to Grayscale Portraits, Polycarbonate

The state is prepared to take things even a step farther, though.  It's joining just a handful of states to have an engraved grayscale portrait as a replacement to the traditional color photograph.  Further, the license will be printed/engraved on rigid polycarbonate plastic, versus bendable papers/plastics used in the old license.

Additionally, 30 other security features -- including holograms, water marks, fine lines, variable patterns, micro-lettering -- aim to stop would-be counterfeiters.

The new licenses will be produced by CBN Secure Technologies Inc., a United States subsidiary of the Canadian Bank Note Company, which scored an eight-year $88.5M USD contract.  The new IDs will cost around $1 a piece, and will take longer to produce than traditional licenses, although the state promises the waiting period for customers will remain the same.

New York Licenses
New York's new licenses incorporate 30 security features and are printed on rigid polycarbonate. [Image Source: The New York Times]

But Owen McShane, director of investigations at the New York DMV says that difficult process is a good thing.  He comments, "It’s hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for an inscriber.  It’s not something a college student is going to be able to go out and get.”

New York is not alone; Maryland is switching to polycarbonate and North Carolina will go with grayscale portraits and polycarbonate, starting in late 2013 or early 2014.

Not everyone is happy about the new licenses.  In some states traditional bendable-style license-makers like De La Rue North America are suing or filing complaints over lost contracts.  De La Rue complains in a lawsuit against the state of New York that CBN's winning bid was much higher and that it was not informed of the polycarbonate preference.  It argues that polycarbonate is actually less secure, as sheets of unengraved IDs could be stolen more easily and used in convincing fakes.

III Can't Fight the Future

But De Lar Rue and other traditionalists seem to be fighting the drumbeat of progress.  

The switch to grayscale portrait, polycarbonate IDs arguably began with the U.S. Department of State, who switched to the format in 2008 for its passport cards, which allow for easier travel across national borders in local North American nations.

Old New York
The maker of the old bendable licenses [pictured] is suing the winning contractor and state.
[Image Source: Dooby Brain]

A year later in 2009 the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles embraced the design, spicing it up with raised lettering, a ghost image and nineteen other unspoken identifiers.  DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen brags that the ID is "perhaps the most secure state-issued ID in the nation."

It appears whether you’re an unhappy traditional license-maker, or an unhappy underage drinker; high-tech IDs are on the rise and here to stay.  Expect more states to join New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland in coming months and years.

Source: The New York Times

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