Think a National ID System Is Too Costly? Think Again
Think a National ID System Is Too Costly? Think Again<@VM>A Business At Odds With Itself
- By William Welsh
- Dec 07, 2001
Barry Goleman of American Management Systems said state motor vehicle departments have the existing infrastructure for a national ID system.
Robert Atkinson of the Progressive Policy Institute said state databases could be part of an even larger homeland defense database.
"Ten years ago, some of the [motor vehicle] commissioners would say, 'I'm not in the identification business.' Today, they all recognize that they are in the business." ? Barry Goleman, American Management Systems
Creating a national identification system could be a lot easier than you think.
Calls since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to create a national ID system to help government authorities monitor citizens and aliens have largely met with skepticism and resistance. A federally run system that requires ID cards and a databank of photos and personal information for every person residing in the United States is regarded as too complex, too costly and too invasive ? too Orwellian to be adopted by this country.
While it's true that a federal system would be a massive undertaking, it's also true that each state already has the infrastructure in place ? a department of motor vehicles ? that could provide the framework for a national system, at least on a limited basis.
"Any systems for issuing identification would have to be widely distributed to accommodate citizen access. Departments of motor vehicles are in a prime position to handle this," said Gregg Kreizman, a public-sector research director with Gartner Inc., an information technology research and consulting firm in Stamford, Conn.
In many states, the departments of motor vehicles are taking digital photographs of applicants and storing them in a database for easy retrieval. They also are integrating information from separate state databases that contain, for example, information on driver's licenses, Social Security and vehicle registration.
Some also are moving to put secure features on driver's licenses, including metalized holograms, two-dimensional bar codes, smart-card chips and embedded biometric templates.
At the same time, officials are moving to adopt systems and processes that would allow states to share driver's license information between states. For example, states could exchange information necessary to verify the identity of people applying for new licenses or renewing existing licenses.
The database also could be part of an even larger homeland defense database modeled after the National Crime Information Center, said Robert Atkinson, vice president and director of the new economy and technology project at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington.
Such a database could be used by law enforcement agencies to prevent terrorist acts, he said.
As proof it is possible to provide a central database for states to verify information about drivers, analysts and industry officials point to a database established by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in 1986 for states to share information on drivers of commercial vehicles.
The organization estimates it would require more than $60 million to establish a central database for all private vehicle operators. This includes $10 million for the central database, $25 million to institute one or more biometric features for all states, and a one-time cost of $500,000 per state to connect to the database.
Lawmakers have already begun examining the need for a national ID system. The House Government Reform subcommittee on government efficiency, financial management and intergovernmental relations held a hearing Nov. 16 to examine whether the country needs a national identification system.
Subsequently, subcommittee Chairman Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., introduced H.R. 3378, a sweeping homeland security bill that includes a mandate to examine the accuracy, reliability and security of personal identification information and systems used by the federal government.
"The commission is not intended to resolve the national identification issue," Horn said when the bill was introduced Nov. 29. "It is merely to advance the debate in light of the Sept. 11 attacks and changed world in which we now live."
The subcommittee did not discuss funding, but only debated the need for a national identification system and the problems that might be associated with implementing one, said Bonnie Heald, a subcommittee spokeswoman.
The debate on creating a national identification system is being closely watched by the nation's top systems integrators, who stand poised to assist federal and state governments in improving the license issuance process in the name of homeland security.
A re-engineering of existing state motor vehicle systems would create opportunities for integrators to provide strategic consulting, database management and biometric solutions, according to analysts and industry officials.
Barry Goleman, vice president of state and local solutions for the public safety and transportation group of American Management Systems Inc., Fairfax, Va., said some states have been slow to accept the idea that they are in the identification business, but most now embrace it.
"Ten years ago, some of the [motor vehicle] commissioners would say, 'I'm not in the identification business.' Today, they all recognize that they are in the business," Goleman said.
In the past, states have shown an interest in security but have not been willing to invest substantial funds to develop systems or technologies to ensure secure documents are issued to the proper individuals, said David Snodgrass, solutions director of the motor vehicle services practice at Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, Pa.
Because the United States is now experiencing the security threats felt by other countries, there will be the political incentive to change the status quo, he said.
"Now that [Sept. 11] has happened, everybody is concentrating on these documents, and the issuance process is as important as the document itself," Snodgrass said.
Goleman agreed. "Everybody talks about issuing new ID cards, but until you can accurately verify a person's identity, you still have a flaw in the system," he said. "That's where states are realizing they need to focus their attention. Being able to check another state's records or an [Immigration and Naturalization Service] record is the type of verification technology they need to put in place."
Raj Nanavati, a partner with International Biometrics Group, New York, said sharing data among states and using biometric features on driver's licenses can be done in a way that is not threatening to citizens. But if motor vehicle departments become the managers of a national ID card system by default, they will need help verifying the identity of those applying for licenses and authenticating documents used to obtain licenses, industry officials said.
"You want to have the same kind of online, real-time data validation at the authentication point as you have at the issuance point," said John Lemelin, a principal and head of motor vehicle and transportation process worldwide at Deloitte Consulting, New York.
The process of verification and identification is something that integrators have mastered for financial institutions in the private sector, Lemelin said.
Goleman said states could adopt similar standards of expanded verification procedures practically overnight by expanding beyond the current data sources they use for verification.
"What they need to do is go out and get commercially available data," Goleman said.
If the state motor vehicle department systems were modified to create a national ID system, rules would be required to improve and standardize the existing driver's license issuance process.
"A major problem with the set of state systems is the lack of standards for proving identity before identification issuance. Obviously, the bar must be raised here, and raised consistently for all states," Kreizman said.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is already lobbying the Bush administration and Congress for national standards related to driver's license issuance.
"We want to be able to properly identify people at the time of licensing and enable departments of motor vehicles to share information at the time of licensing. This will prevent identity theft and stop people from shopping for multiple licenses," said Jason King, spokesman for the Washington-based group representing state and provincial officials in the United States and Canada who administer and enforce motor vehicle laws.
King said the integration of state databases and institutions with uniform biometrics on driver's licenses "will not be easy and will not happen overnight." Further, it will require new funding and changes to federal and state laws, he said.
For now, however, neither Congress nor the administration appears interested in creating a federally sponsored national ID system.
U.S. citizens remain deeply concerned about their privacy, thus hindering efforts by state officials to institute processes and solutions that would improve the verification process and ensure secure and authentic licenses.
Still, if further terror attacks change public attitude toward creating a national ID system, the state motor vehicle department databases are a logical starting point.
"You've got the infrastructure that exists in the states for people to apply and be reviewed," Atkinson said.The efforts by states to provide convenient service to motor vehicle department customers have come in conflict with security efforts following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to analysts and industry observers.
For example, states that were providing driver's license renewal over the counter and vehicle registration online are now having second thoughts about whether this approach allows them sufficient time to verify identity, particularly for those applicants who are not U.S. citizens, they said.
However, some of the new technologies, such as the digitizing of photographs, could provide the means for improving security.
Companies identified these major trends aimed at streamlining the process for issuing driver's licenses:
? Accessibility: Allowing applicants to obtain service online.
? Digitizing: Taking digital photographs of applicants and storing them in a database for easy retrieval.
? Integration: Combining information from separate databases that contain, for example, information on driver's licenses, Social Security numbers and vehicle registrations.
? Processing: Moving away from issuing licenses over the counter to issuing them from a central location to improve security.
? Security: Putting secure features on driver's licenses, including metalized holograms, two-dimensional bar codes, smart-card chips and embedded biometric templates.
William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.