Biometric IDs may be wave of future

New federal employeee IDs coming soon, with driver's licenses to follow. Vendors are looking forward to a brave new world.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

As the time nears for the launch of biometric-laden ID cards for federal employees, manufacturers have their eyes on the real prize - driver's licenses. With a federal law that requires states to issue smart driver's licenses - loaded with biomeric data - vendors see the new federal IDs as just the tip of the iceberg, The Washington Post reports.

"When you're talking about credentialing the federal workforce and contractors, you're talking about maybe 10 million people. When you're talking first responders, you're at 20, 30 or 40 million people," said Thomas Greco, a vice president at Herndon-based Cybertrust Inc. "But when you're talking credentialing all registered drivers in the United States, you're up to hundreds of millions of people. Nobody is losing sight of that."

Some feel that it's likely that standards for these different smart IDs will converge, allowing for information sharing and even a de facto national ID system. But that's not all - once a standard is set among governments, the private sector will follow, with banks and the health care sector also interested in using the standard.

The new cards must meet a rigorous federal standard that details -- down to the size of the typeface -- what the new cards look like and how they are used. At a minimum, the IDs will require fingerprints and possibly retinal scans or other forms of biometric identification, depending on the agency. The cards are also likely to incorporate magnetic strips, personal identification numbers and digital photos, as well as holograms and watermarks to deter forgery. Before employees and contractors can get their new credentials, they will have to submit to a thorough background check, if they have not already.

The RealID Act would push standardization further, as all states would have to comply with DHS' security standards for the new cards. But with the states pushing back on the cost of implementing the new program, RealID cards won't be as stringent as the federal employee ID.

Those costs will come down as the number of users goes up, industry says.

"One of the inhibitors has been the cost of the technology. But with the widespread adoption by the government, the cost of everything is going to come down," said Jon Rambeau, director of credentialing at Lockheed Martin.

State and local governments are considered major potential buyers. Among their needs are credentials for first responders so that officials can verify the identity of people who show up to help in the event of an emergency.

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