Driver's licenses will soon be in the mail


In an effort to curtail identity theft, the 2005 Legislature directed the state Department of Transportation to use facial recognition software before issuing driver's licenses.

The deadline for putting the changes into effect is the summer of 2008, but the conversion to the new system has started.

As soon as a driver's license photograph is taken, software will begin performing detailed mapping of the applicant's facial features. Those images will be compared with the already archived digital pictures of all the state's drivers.

"The computer will spit out possible matches, and if it looks like an attempt at fraud, we don't issue a license and notify law enforcement," said David House, a spokesman for the Driver and Motor Vehicles Services Division.

For driver's, the big change will be in the time it takes to get a license. Instead of leaving the DMV field office with their license, motorists will instead get a temporary black-and-white card that expires in a month.

The official licenses will be mailed five to 10 days after the stop at the DMV, assuming no problems are found. The lag will give time to analyze the photos and ensure that the same person is not acquiring bogus licenses at several DMVs on the same day, House said.

The Department of Transportation is contracting with Beaverton-based Digimarc to do the image scanning and the centralized production of licenses.

The images will not be shared with other state governments, or the federal government, House said, so it will still be possible for a person to go across state lines to obtain a duplicate identification.

The state does not know how much it will cost to evaluate each license, House said. It will be added to the cost of each card that's issued, and the 2005 legislation that mandated the new system allows for an increase of as much as $3 per renewal and application.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the system during the 2005 legislative session and hasn't changed its stance. The ACLU says facial-recognition software results in more false alarms than positive identifications. It says such systems are easily fooled by changes in hairstyle, facial hair or body weight, by simple disguises, and by the effects of aging.

But state Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, said any uneasiness about Big Brother is unwarranted. "If there is a trade-off, I would lean toward protection of the people for ID theft, and that's a big problem in the fight against meth," he said.

The Federal Trade Commissions Identity Theft Clearinghouse said Oregon had the 13th highest rate of reported ID theft in the country in 2006, with 76.1 victims per 100,000 people.

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