New Technology Takes Aim at Fake IDs

on February 03, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Until mid-December, anyone needing a fake driver’s license could download a free app from Apple’s App Store and make one. The DriversEd iPhone and iPad app-available since 2009-allowed users to pose for photos and create bogus licenses. But at the request of Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who called the app “dangerous,” it is no longer available.

The app, from, was intended as a game to see what it would look like to have a license for any of the 50 states.

But Casey, along with the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, argued that it could be used as a tool for identity theft; the templates could be printed and laminated to create a counterfeit ID that looks like the real thing. contends that the IDs could not be mistaken for authentic ones, because the design elements did not correspond to government-issued IDs.

New technology has made it easier than ever before to fabricate an ID card.”

“Whether or not anyone would actually be fooled by a driver’s license created with this app, the fact is that new technology has made it easier than ever before to fabricate an ID card,” says Steve Williams, CEO of Intellicheck Mobilisa (ICMobil), a company based in Washington State with offices on Long Island.

“And even if this particular app didn’t result in a truly authentic-looking card, there is other technology out there that can create much more authentic, realistic-looking IDs. There is a real need for additional new technology that can identify these counterfeits.”

Williams understands this better than most. ICMobil supplies department-store chains, security firms, military bases and law enforcement agencies with a variety of electronic devices to detect counterfeit IDs. Its products include an inexpensive iPhone application that can provide near-instant verification of a cardholder’s identity, and a swipe pad that can sit on top of a bar-both of which could be used to check for fake IDs.

Another of Intellicheck’s products is ID Check, a handheld device that reads bar codes and magnetic stripes on current forms of ID cards. By scanning and comparing the information to over 140+ “bad guy” and FBI Watch databases, ID Check can immediately determine if the ID is fake, determine if the ID is reported lost or stolen, determine if the individual has outstanding wants and warrants, and determine if the individual is on an authorized roster of previously cleared personnel.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. began instituting security measures to prevent future terrorism. However, an analysis of measures in place at the nation’s airports reveals that much work remains. Would-be terrorists are still capable of gaining access to U.S. critical infrastructure.

The problem becomes clearer by spotlighting details of high-profile terrorism cases. Consider the ease with which the 9/11 hijackers gained access to planes that morning. Some hijackers lacked a valid, U.S. government-issued identification card; they were allowed to board their planes anyway.

Whether we study the examples of shoe bomber Richard Reid, or underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, or Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, we see that despite the varying circumstances leading to these incidents, they might never have occurred if certain security measures involving new technology had been in place.

The “no fly” list, created soon after 9/11 and maintained by the US government, consists of names of individuals who are barred from boarding commercial aircraft for travel into or out of the country. Its use has stirred controversy for incidences of false positives, in which law-abiding citizens have been mistakenly detained.

Technology currently exists to perform such checks efficiently. Electronic devices have been developed that can scan a passenger’s ID card (e.g., a driver’s license or military ID card) at the boarding gate, validate its authenticity, determine whether it is lost or stolen, and check if the bearer’s identity is on a watch or terrorist list.

For example, the Defense ID System, also developed by ICMobil, resembles ID Check in that it consists of a handheld device that reads barcodes and magnetic stripes on various forms of ID cards. Once again, by scanning and comparing the information to more than available watchlist databases, Defense ID can determine in the space of a few seconds if the ID is fake, if it has been reported lost or stolen, if the individual presenting it has any outstanding wants and warrants, and if the individual is on an authorized roster of previously cleared personnel. In addition, Defense ID has photo-capture, incident recording and manual search capabilities. It could easily be adapted to check the federal “no fly” list.

Cutting-edge verification technology alone will not guarantee the safeguarding of airports against potential terrorist attack unless the technology is implemented wisely.

At airports, security will be maximized only when the implementation of ID readers is complete. John F. Kennedy International Airport, out of which Faisal Shahzad nearly managed to fly after failing to detonate his Times Square car bomb, has eight terminals and 14 security checkpoints. Yet the expense of fully implementing ID scanning technology at those checkpoints has been estimated to cost as little as $1.5 million. For the price of a few full-body scanning machines, the State of New York could deploy technology that would screen people against the “no fly” list before they ever board.

In the future, biometrics may render the use of fake or stolen IDs even less feasible; a passenger’s fingerprint might scanned at the boarding gate and instantly checked against a “no fly” database.

Another innovation could be the use of a single universal database consisting of names of individuals of interest, updated in real time, and accessible at all security checkpoints. This would be designed to eliminate oversights such as that which occurred in the case of underwear bomber Abdulmutallab, whose name appeared on one watch list but not another, allowing him to board his plane.

The dangers raised by fake IDs continue to plague the nation. The widespread implementation of new technology would go far toward improving the abilitiy to detect identity theft and would-be terrorists alike.

Sebastian Thaler is a freelance science and technology writer based in New York City.