- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will soon begin issuing redesigned driver’s licenses with enhanced security measures to prevent tampering and fraud.

“To some extent, we’re trying to stay ahead of the bad guys when it comes to these documents,” agency Commissioner D.B. Smit told The Washington Times on Thursday.

Beginning this spring, Virginia will join 15 other states in issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards through a centralized process. That means residents visiting one of the agency’s 74 facilities will no longer be able to walk out the door holding a newly laminated card.

Officials instead have contracted with a company - Canadian Bank Note Secure Technologies - that will produce the licenses at a highly secured facility in Danville. The cards then will be mailed within five business days to applicants, who will be able to drive using a temporary permit in the meantime.

The centralized process coincides with the first redesign of state driver’s licenses in 10 years. The cards will include state-of-the-art security features to foil scams involving license tampering, employee bribery and identification fraud.

For example, the cards will be made out of tamper-resistant polycarbonate and contain laser-engraved images, raised lettering and an invisible fluorescent design detectable by ultraviolet light.

They will include a clear-window photo that will join Virginia with two other countries and one province that use such technology. Other security measures will be known only to law enforcement, but would consist of something like “a word where a letter is reversed,” Mr. Smit said.

“We’ve got a problem with fraud, not just with the Virginia DMV, but in any DMV across the country,” Mr. Smit said. “It’s an embarrassment to have that happen.”

The new licenses will be issued to residents seeking renewals in March, with the entire roll-out targeted for completion by July. The changeover will cost the state about $6 million, Mr. Smit said, but has been approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Tim Kaine.

It also will enable the agency to comply with the federal Real ID Act, legislation passed by Congress and stemming from Sept. 11, 2001, that sets security standards for licenses but has sparked concern from some Virginia lawmakers.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, is one of six sponsors of a bill stating that Virginia will not participate in complying with the federal law.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican and candidate for attorney general, also has sponsored a bill that would bar state agencies from sharing information connected to the issuance of a license or ID card with some exceptions and require any new Real ID requirements imposed this year to receive General Assembly approval before being implemented in the state.

Both measures were referred to the respective transportation committees of the House and Senate.

Mr. Smit said the bill by Mr. Cuccinelli - who did not return a call for comment - likely stems partially from a “legitimate concern” sparked by federal officials previously considering the creation of a nationwide database to share information. He said that concept is no longer under consideration.

“I don’t think we’re talking to one another quite clearly yet, and that dialogue’s got to continue,” Mr. Smit said.

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