Secure Printing of Driver’s Licenses

By Dave Tushie, Magellan Consulting, Inc., ICMA Standards and Technical Representative

This has been a very busy time for those involved in physically secure ID cards and their mobile equivalent solutions. While there is a great deal of work being done on the development of a viable Mobile Driving License (mDL), there is no support for eliminating the physical license. The USA ANSI/INCITS Standards meeting in Washington, D.C. in August reported on the progress made on resolving comments on the 2nd CD ballot of ISO/IEC 18013-5 (this is the ISO-compliant driving license: Part 5: Mobile driving license standard). More than 600 comments were reviewed by a large group of international experts. This is a long and arduous project that, done well, will open the door to new and improved operational and security solutions.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) held its Annual International Conference (AIC) in Omaha, Nebraska, also in August. Prior to the formal meeting, the AAMVA hosted a test event to give vendors the opportunity to test their initial mDL solutions in simulated conditions. More than 60 vendor representatives were involved in this event.

One common thread reported at both meetings involved the physical driving license and the need to improve its resistance to counterfeit threats and fraudulent use. Primary emphasis was applied to the need for stronger tamper proof and tamper evident card constructions. But, at this meeting, it was also stressed that shortening the license validity duration could improve field security since the longer the license is valid the longer the counterfeiters have to reproduce it.

In the United States, the AAMVA provides its Card Design Standard as the reference document to guide jurisdictions in the design of their physical license. The current version is dated 2016, with a new version planned for 2020. However, having this application standard does not mean all licenses will be the same. There is great variability in the states’ implementations of the standard’s guidance. Variability also exists in the personalization and distribution of the driver’s licenses. For example, the rollout of Real ID driver’s licenses has caused some jurisdictions to move from instant driver’s license issuance to central issuance with its changing environments.

Some other topical issues include the use of black and white, rather than color photo images on the driver’s licenses. This issue is largely driven by the differences in the materials used to manufacture the license. It can also affect the decision on whether to print or engrave the personalization data. Cost and security issues have a role to play in this decision process. While many issues are still being discussed, improving the physical security of the physical license seems to be emerging as a mandate. This may take the form of a multi-layer license to get the combined advantages that the various chemical formulations provide. Layering may make possible the addition of chips and other electronic components that can increase the security of the license and the value of the driver’s license for other non-driving ID applications.

When identifying the effect these changes will have on card printing and equipment, it is instructive to note that the changes driven by the DHS Real ID program must result in a properly vetted, highly secure credential. Therefore, the physical security of the Real ID driver’s license must support the intended uses. As an example, counterfeit proof features can be embedded in separate printed layers of the license that cannot be separated. Personalization data then takes the plastic card and turns it into a non-reproducible driving license. Laser engraving and reverse transfer printing can then become a part of the driving license manufacturing process.

As always, driver’s license improvements must be achieved at a reasonable cost to the jurisdictions. For example, efforts to include PC material in the license can be made more affordable if the content of PC is reduced by replacing some of the PC with other card material formulations. To be a viable option, these constructions must be achieved without sacrificing security. Work on these concepts is underway and should move forward along with licenses that use a variety of materials but have equivalent or near equivalent security against counterfeiting.

About the Author: ICMA Standards and Technical Representative David Tushie has had a long and continuing career in the card industry, working for international companies such as DataCard, UbiQ and NBS Technologies. He has master’s degrees in engineering and business, holds U.S. and international patents in measurement and card issuance systems and has had several years of involvement with the ANSI, INCITS and ISO standards process. ICMA is represented at six ISO and ANSI standards meetings through his standards role within the association.

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