Washington picks Digimarc for RFID-enabled licensing

Washington State is moving forward on deploying the nation's first radio frequency identification-enabled driver's license that also will serve as a border crossing card under a pilot program authorized by the Homeland Security Department.

The Washington State Department of Licensing announced this week that it has selected Digimarc Corp. of Beaverton, Ore. to implement enrollment, screening and production of the identification cards, which include a RFID tag on the cards. The RFID tag is a technology that originated for tracking items in warehouses. It consists of a tiny microprocessor mounted on the card that communicates wirelessly to a reader.

Washington State will use Digimarc's applicant screening solutions to verify an applicant's identity documents; data such as name and address; and facial biometrics to ensure that only one license is issued to one legitimate cardholder, Digimarc said.

The total value of the contract with Digimarc was not immediately available.

The RFID tags to be used in Washington State will be compatible with the RFID tags to be used for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), Digimarc said. The travel initiative is being established by DHS to tighten security at border crossings. Under the initiative, U.S., Mexican and Canadian travelers will have to present a passport, border-crossing card or other specific document at the U.S. land borders. In the past, thousands of documents were considered acceptable for crossing the borders.

The Washington State enhanced driver's license will have security features, including digital watermarking, Digimarc said.

New features include the RFID tags and a machine-readable zone. The machine readable zone is expected to be compatible with Real ID Act of 2005 requirements. The final Real ID requirements have not yet been announced by DHS, though initial rulemaking by the department said a two-dimensional barcode would be used in the machine-readable zone.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has encouraged other states to enter into agreements with the department to develop similar enhanced driver's licenses with border-crossing features. To meet the WHTI requirements, the department has selected Generation 2 RFID technology for its People Access Security Services (PASS) border crossing card, in which the RFID tags can be read at distances of 20 feet.

The DHS' choice of RFID has been controversial because the tags do not have encryption and can be scanned easily by readers, raising the prospect of identity theft, tracking and privacy loss. The department has responded to those concerns by saying the PASS card will transmit only a single reference number, which is linked with a secure DHS database. But privacy and industry experts say the reference number can be compromised if the RFID tag is cloned. The Smart Card Alliance, an industry group, recently offered a public demonstration of the ease in cloning a generic Generation 2 RFID tag.

Washington State's RFID tags are "compatible" with the department's choice of Generation 2 RFID, Digimarc said. But information was not immediately available on whether the Washington State's RFID tags are also Generation 2 RFID technology that can be read at 20 feet.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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