Checking IDs Goes Nationwide

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When police officer stops a person for speeding or some other traffic violation, he or she asks for a driver’s license and looks up the person’s driving history. But the information accessed is typically from a database compiling data from a single state.

Meanwhile, people who need to validate IDs at military bases, airports and banks depend on databases that are scattered across the country and contain information that doesn’t  always match up.

A company called Intellicheck Mobilisa, based in Port Townsend, Wash., now offers access to all those government databases to solve this problem and prevent people from faking IDs and stealing identities.

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Technologically it is relatively simple: a small card reader is hooked up to a PC and it reads the data from a driver’s license or other form of ID. The reader is designed to read both bar codes and magnetic stripes. The device sends the data to the company’s servers, which are linked to various databases. The function is similar to the background checks one can buy online for a few dollars, except in this case it is in real-time.

The company has already sold systems to military bases and some law enforcement agencies, as well as retailers.

Which database depends on who the customer is: law enforcement agencies are hooked up to criminal records and the various motor vehicle departments. A retail outlet might have access to credit records as well as drivers’ license data, or a car rental agency could see if a license is valid. It would also work for buying guns: since the link is relatively instantaneous a retailer would know immediately whether the person buying a firearm has a criminal record.

Checking these databases against each other can also help eliminate false positives. By matching a license against not only a name but for example, a date of birth, it’s easier to check that the “John Brown” who is a wanted fugitive is not the same person who wants to open up a charge card account at a local mall.

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Another thing the reader can do is check whether a license or ID is real or not. The data on a drivers’ license is coded in a specific way, and that isn’t easy to duplicate. There’s a whole market for false IDs that will look fine when a person reads them but would not pass muster if they were checked by computer. So all those college students who want to get into bars and bought the fake ID may soon be out of luck. (You can still use your older sibling’s ID, as that would be valid, but you’d better hope nobody asks for a social security card as well).

One reason the system can work at all is that drivers’ licenses in the U.S. are more uniform than they once were. Over the last several years every state has adopted either a magnetic stripe or bar code system, or both. A few states have some older licenses, but those will disappear as they expire and get renewed.

Photo: Intellicheck Mobilisa’s “Fugitive Finder,” a model of reader used to check IDs; Credit: Intellicheck Mobilisa

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