Rubbed Out

MINNESOTA'S DRIVER AND Vehicle Services Division was mighty proud when it unveiled the state's new driver's license almost exactly two years ago; the card is adorned with multiple high-tech features including holograms, a digitized signature and photo, a bar code, a magnetic strip, and a "security laminate" that changes color when tampered with.

Unfortunately, things haven't gone as smoothly as planned. Initially it was taking in excess of three months to issue the cards, and thousands of people had to have their photos reshot after the state computers used to transmit the digitized files dispatched a slew of them into the nether reaches of cyberspace. Now that the department has finally gotten most of the kinks worked out of the imaging technology, there appears to be a problem with the license itself: People's faces are rubbing off. As many as 5,000 Minnesotans--almost all men--have already applied for replacement cards due to what the department calls "ghosting."

Pierre Carpenter, the program manager for Driver Licensing and Records Control, says it's the result of "a chemical reaction that is occurring with some types of plastic," namely the kind used to line the license compartments in most men's wallets. The image, he says, "becomes part of the plastic container." Replacements are being offered at no cost. Carpenter says it's a problem other commercial clients (such as credit card companies) are having with the relatively new imaging process as well, and says the state is still happy with manufacturer Deluxe Corporation: "We are producing one of the most secure, fraud-proof cards in the country. The card is being used as a model by some agencies of the federal government with respect to licensing and multiple-use cards."

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