N.M. to issue new drivers’ licenses

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By Kelly LeVan

Things will go a little differently next time you go to obtain or renew a driver license.

In an effort to improve security for New Mexico’s 1.7 million holders of driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs, the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) is completely overhauling its system. Licenses now offer 12 security features where they used to have four. And every license in the state will be created in one, centralized location.

While this means a few changes for customers, it also means a far smaller risk of identity theft.

“Since the license has become the core identification tool, it’s become a real target for criminals to obtain fake licenses to use for less than honorable purposes, said Rick Homans, cabinet secretary for the state’s Taxation & Revenue Department. “It’s a huge issue.”

He said five of the terrorists involved with the 9/11 attacks had fraudulently obtained driver’s licenses. This and cases of identity theft around the country have prompted a number of states – New Mexico makes 28 – to make driver’s licenses harder to get and harder to fake.

“At the federal level,” Homans said, “there’s a move to only accept driver’s licenses as identification that include certain features. Most of these security features are built into the new (New Mexico) licenses.”

Because the licenses will not be made in individual field offices, “we’ve also taken away the opportunity to steal equipment and make fake licenses.”

All license-production equipment has been removed from MVD offices in areas of the state where the new licenses have rolled out.

While this enhances your security, this means that instead of receiving your license the day you fill out the paperwork and get your photo taken, you will receive it in the mail.

In the meantime, you will receive a license extension, a temporary card to be used in conjunction with your expired, hole-punched license.

Those who accept licenses as identification are asked by the state to accept only these items in combination – just a license extension, for instance, without the hole-punched license should not be accepted, Homans said.

“This is the big change our customers will expect and need to be aware of,” he said.

New technology

Los Alamos was one of the first communities in the state to try out the new biometric facial recognition technology, a large part of the MVD’s plan for making citizens safer.

“Los Alamos and Santa Fe were the two pilots,” said Los Alamos MVD manager Bernadette Quintana. By trying out the new system in these locations, she said, the state is hoping to figure out what problems might arise and fix them.

Biometrics ensures that you are who you claim to be by comparing dozens of points on your face to photos of you the MVD has on file, Quintana said. It also compares your photo with more than 3 million others – the MVD has two photos of most drivers – in the database to ensure you are the only one using your photo.

“A one-to-one match is done at the field office,” said Ken F. Ortiz, director of the state MVD, “and we check that day to make sure you don’t have multiple identifications – whether you are a victim or a criminal.”

If the latter is true, Homans and Ortiz emphasized that anyone using fraudulent documents will be turned into the police.

“We now have the tools to recognize this,” Ortiz said.

Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster said he and the Los Alamos police force wholeheartedly supports the state’s efforts.

“Any features they add to make crime harder for people to commit, we’re all for,” he said.

In order for the biometric technology to work correctly, those having their photos taken will have to remove their glasses and pull their hair away from their face. They will have to pin their bangs back and long hair will have to be tucked behind their ears or tied up.

The local field office, located at 997 Central Ave., has purchased a new camera and software to implement the biometric system. Funding for the equipment in Los Alamos and the 89 other offices throughout the state is coming from a $2.7 million legislative appropriation.

The funding also covers certain changes in the look of the license itself, each designed to make the card harder to forge.

A laser-perforation Zia symbol is visible when a police officer shines a flashlight through the license. A “ghost portrait,” located in the bottom-right corner of the license, is actually layered beneath the surface of the card. A detailed, guilloche design crisscrossing the picture of a mesa appears as tiny lines, but is actually even tinier micro-print, repeatedly reading “Land of Enchantment”; the state’s motto is deliberately misspelled a few times.

“This is a very serious business when it comes to identification cards,” Homans said.

Ortiz added, “Our licenses have evolved over the years to being much more than just an authentication to drive.”