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          Front Page




New License Aims to Prevent ID Theft

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE— Driver's license applicants who leave the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division clutching a piece of paper bearing a black-and-white temporary license may wonder who's going to believe them.
    Take heart, says Taxation and Revenue Secretary Rick Homans.
    He flew to Boston over the weekend and says he had no problem proving his identity at airline security checkpoints.
    "The combination of my temporary license and my old license worked just fine," said Homans, whose agency oversees the Motor Vehicle Division. He was among the first to get a new license.
    New Mexico began converting this week to new, high-tech driver's licenses and identification cards that state officials say will provide more protection from identity theft.
    For the first time, applicants won't leave MVD counters with their new licenses, but rather with temporary, paper licenses good for 45 days. Permanent licenses— which will be produced in another state— will be sent by mail and should arrive within a couple of weeks, officials said.
    This is the way the system will work from now on.
    Applicants are advised to hang on to their old licenses as well, in case police or schools or stores or airports question the temporaries.
    Taxation and Revenue officials have been scrambling to notify banks and other businesses that the temporary licenses are official identification, and are urging them to "take the temp."
    Liquor sellers, some of whom use the magnetic strips on the backs of licenses to check IDs, will have to decide what's acceptable identification from people with temporary licenses, Homans said.
    The Santa Fe MVD office began issuing the licenses to customers Monday, and the program will gradually spread to other offices around the state. By the end of June, all 90 offices— run by MVD, local governments or private contractors— should be issuing them.
    Drivers aren't required to get the new licenses until their old ones expire. About 560,000 people a year apply for new or renewal licenses, according to MVD officials.
    Homans said the state decided to get the high-tech licenses because of security concerns. He said MVD offices have been targets of would-be identity thieves who stole license-making equipment, although he said their operations haven't been successful.
    The new license program includes bio-metric facial recognition technology, which allows the photo taken of each applicant at MVD to be compared with the division's photo database. That would show, for example, whether an applicant already had licenses under other names, or whether an applicant's photo was being fraudulently used on someone else's license.
    There also will be a dozen security features on the new licenses, which will be produced by Oregon-based Digimarc at a facility in Lacey, Wash.
    Switching to the new system will cost the state about $2.7 million, but the license cost to applicants won't increase, officials said. MVD Director Ken Ortiz said contracting with Digimarc to produce licenses won't be any more expensive than producing them at 90 separate locations.