Driver’s licenses are a rite of passage for most, but for states, they’ve become a security vulnerability. Identity theft is on the rise, and driver’s licenses are the gold standard for identification inside and outside of government.
That’s why the state of Maryland is proud to announce that it will be releasing a new driver’s license in June, calling it “one of the most secure products in the nation.” To get to this standard, the state worked hard to incorporate the latest and greatest tactics in identity security, including REAL ID compliance.
“We did a review of what security features were in use not only in the U.S., but also throughout the world,” says Christine Nizer, Administrator at Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. “And we also use some covert features that frankly aren’t visible to the naked eye but allow, through a greater level of scrutiny, to determine whether it is a legitimate card or not.”
Some of the new features that come with the new Maryland driver’s license include:
One of the main investments the state had to make was in the laser engraving printers needed to print the new cards. Prior to that, cards were printed on specialized desktop printers at the local Motor Vehicle Administration branches.
“In the past we had small desktop printers in our branch offices, and those printers, you actually could go on eBay and purchase them,” says Nizer. “So when I say people would attempt to create Maryland licenses, that’s the reason it was important to purchase something that was much more difficult to obtain and make sure we keep our product secure.”
Driver’s licenses are issued by the MVA, but they are relied upon by various agencies within the state. In particular, law enforcement relies on driver’s licenses for thorough, accurate identification of residents.
“Law enforcement wants to know that when they pull somebody over on the side of the road, especially late at night in a dangerous situation, that it is the person presented on that license,” says Nizer. “So obviously, the higher level of security is a great benefit for law enforcement throughout the state in making sure it’s a legitimate credential.”
The role of identity standard bearer is one that the MVA takes very seriously, which is why the agency sees the new secure driver’s license as a significant achievement.
“The driver’s license and identification card issued by the state has become the identity of choice for most individuals and a lot of government agencies do rely on us for the accuracy of our data,” says Nizer. “The more accurate we can be, then the better they are at delivering their services.”
A major change that Maryland residents will have to prepare for is that they will no longer be able to walk out of the MVA with a brand-new license or ID card in hand. That’s because the MVA is centralizing production and distribution of the licenses in a secure facility, which isn’t entirely new — it’s how passports are currently produced and distributed.
Currently about 40 percent of Marylanders receive their identification from a mailed centralized facility, and more than 30 other states mail their licenses and ID cards to citizens, according to the MVA’s announcement.
The agency is making a big effort to educate and raise awareness about the new cards and make sure that people realize driver’s license processing is going to change, and that with these new secure cards, things might be different than what they’ve been used to.
“We’ll be working with all of our partners to help get the word out through driving schools, through dealerships, through various associations that we work with, insurance companies,” says Nizer. “We’re engaging a whole marketing campaign through a variety of sources to make sure the information is out there as much as possible”
While the new secure card is a major step forward in leveraging technology to bolster identity security, what about the next frontier: digital driver’s licenses? Is Maryland considering developing and distributing a completely digital identity card?
“There has been a little bit of movement in that regard, in terms of individuals talking about the issue. Certainly going forward that seems to be the direction that everything is going, in terms of electronic identity management,” says Nizer. “We’re not quite there yet, but yes, that’s definitely the future.”