Hybrid licenses catch on in Washington State

Washington State has issued more than 2,000 new hybrid drivers license-passport cards since it began issuing them a month ago, and 13,000 more people have signed up to apply, state officials said.

The Enhanced Drivers License program, started by Washington State in conjunction with the Homeland Security Department, became operational Jan. 22. The new licenses also serve as border-crossing cards that enable travel across some U.S. land borders in lieu of a passport.

"The Enhanced Drivers License program has been going very well," Gigi Zenk, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Licensing, told Washington Technology. "People seem to want them. They enjoy the convenience."

The cards are the same size as regular licenses, but with a different design. They feature a machine-readable zone and a radio frequency identification tag that can be scanned by a reader from 20 feet away. The RFID tag contains only a reference number to protect personal information on the card.

The identification cards, which cost $40 for renewals and $15 for existing licenses, enable Washington State residents to travel freely across the U.S. land border with Canada. They are being marketed as a low-cost alternative to passports.

The RFID tags are not being read because the scanners are not yet in place, Zenk said. The readers will be installed in the near future, she said.

Persons who apply for the cards must show proof of Washington State residency along with proof of U.S. citizenship, including checking the integrity documents such as birth certificates and verifying Social Security numbers. State employees have been trained in both areas and are performing the vetting, Zenk said.

The enhanced license program was initially termed a pilot project, but as of January it was an official program and no longer a pilot, Zenk added.

Washington State contracted with Digimarc Corp. in July 2007 to support the enhanced license program.

Arizona, New York and Vermont, as well as British Columbia and other Canadian provinces, also are developing hybrid license/border cards. The card programs present opportunities for contractors active in identification card and identification management.

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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