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Is the Portrait Still the Most Definitive Identification Feature?

When it comes to identity documents, the picture is the aspect most often forged. Why? Because photos most visibly connect documents to their rightful owners. Fortunately, there are many ways to secure the picture to make sure that the person captured on the document is in fact the person being presented for identification to the verifier.

The Photograph: The Main Identification Method for Almost 200 Years

The role of the portrait in identification has always been paramount. Until recent years and the introduction of automated identification processes, there has never been a more efficient method to identify a person. After the invention of photography in the early 1820s, it wasn’t long before its use became ubiquitous thanks to how precisely a photo can capture the unique attributes of individuals. Two centuries later, most modern identity documents still display an individual’s picture as the primary identity attribute. The reason is simple — it is easy to check. Identification takes only a few seconds and requires no tools.

e-Passports Have Enhanced Security by Storing the Holder’s Image in the Chip

With regards to photo identification, travel documents and passports must follow the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The portrait is the only biometric data required by ICAO, with fingerprints and iris colors being optional. With the introduction of the e-Passport in the mid-2000s, the holder’s data — including their picture — is digitally stored in a micro controller. This is a major improvement for the integrity of the document. By having identical portraits in two separate locations, a more secure passport was achieved.

Laminates Protect the Picture in Paper Datapages

There are two ways to secure the picture on a datapage: one is by upgrading the datapage material, and the one is by applying a layer of security on top of the data. For paper datapages, the latter is done with a laminate, which provides a durable, tamper-resistant layer of physical protection. Any deliberate scraping of the coating results in the immediate destruction of security features and is readily evident to verifiers.

Polycarbonate Datapages Enhance Security in the Manufacturing Process

The newest generation of datapages take advantage of polycarbonate (PC) materials. PC is an extremely durable thermoplastic polymer able to sustain the engraving of hi-resolution images which have the benefit of high contrasts of grey tones. The picture is safely protected within the document’s inner layers. More than 50 countries have upgraded their paper datapages to PC.

Image Related Security Features

The security industry continues to introduce new options to enhance the security of photos as identity data. One option is via a transparent DOVID (Diffractive Optically Variable Image Device) that partially covers the picture. Another option is the duplication of the picture in different areas of the document. These are “ghost portraits”. Forcing forgers to alter more than one picture has proven an effective deterrent in the fight against fraud.

The inclusion of a security feature called Variable Changeable or Multiple Laser Image (CLI/MLI) is an additional strong choice. CLI/MLI plays with light reflection, movement and an embossing effect applied to the surface. The effect creates a second, shifting image via laser engraving.

The Highest Level of Protection: Clear Windows

Duplicating the portrait throughout the document can also be achieved using clear personalized windows. Taking this technology one step further is the use of negative laser engraving, in which the main portrait is positively laser engraved in black on white, and the ghost portrait is engraved negatively. This prevents the alteration of the picture with a moustache or hair, making it almost impossible for fraudsters to modify the portraits. HID Global developed this kind of advanced security feature with HID Mirage™. Mirage combines several effects including a vanishing image, a personalized portrait which is negatively engraved, a bi-color metallic effect and a window seal that protects against substitution attempts.

Color Personalization Still Lacks Maturity

The next generation of PC documents will evolve from black and white to color portraits. The priority remains to achieve the highest level of fidelity possible. However, the technology has not fully matured. Multiple options are coexisting without one trend taking over. It is worth noting that several color laser engraving technologies are proprietary and therefore very restrictive in terms of implementation options.

Face Recognition Provides Superior Contactless Identification

It is striking to see the various concepts and technologies implemented to secure the portrait, but the most notable evolution is yet to come; automated identification is about to take over. Using a simple camera, it is possible to check the identity of a person and automatically compare the picture on the document to the digitally stored one, eliminating the risk of human error. There is still a use for the high-fidelity picture, but only as a backup when identification takes place with no operator at e-gates.

The expansion of face recognition systems keeps the picture at the center of the identification process, while embracing the latest technological advances in security. We have already experienced a shift from contact electronic interfaces to contactless interfaces, and it is very likely that face recognition will replace the use of fingerprint technology, which requires capture by contact. Face recognition allows a seamless capture and provides a better user experience. As technology progresses to narrow the gap between the risk assessment of face and fingerprint identity management, there is no limit to the expansion of face recognition applications in identification.