ID documents verified

Shaving time off Real ID applications

Shortly after Blake Hall moved to Washington, D.C., he went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license. He brought with him insurance and bank statements from USAA, waited his turn and was turned away.  Although both documents types are acceptable as proof of residency, two documents from the same issuing entity can't be used.

To make sure others don’t experience his frustration, his company has created Real ID Pre-Screening, a digital tool that vets documents people need when they apply for a Real ID-compliant driver’s license – the DMV-issued state identification that will become required for domestic air travel on Oct. 1, 2020.

Applicants must visit their local DMV in person to get a Real ID, but about a quarter of them show up with insufficient proof of residency or identity. When that happens, they must reschedule and return with the correct information, which adds to the departments’ already notorious wait times.

“If you show up at the DMV and you find out that your documents don’t work, that’s a pretty significant hiccup in terms of the time lost and frustration that’s involved in a second DMV visit,” Hall said. For their part, the state DMV offices have same number of frontline employees issuing licenses, "but then all of a sudden, you might have a spike of three to four times the number of licenses that you need to issue in order to transition all of your residents over from their current ID over to a Real ID.” That contributes to excessive wait times. “In some states, there are lines that will stretch outside the DMV office, around the corner, and folks are waiting three to four hours," Hall said.

The Real ID Pre-Screening tool helps avoid these problems by vetting applicants’ documents before they go to the DMV. To use it, applicants create a single sign-on through the application and secure it with multifactor authentication. Next, they fill out an electronic driver’s license application or renewal form and then scan the proof of identity and proof of residency documents with their phones or a scanner.

When applicants use their phone for scanning, the application opens a secure tunnel from the browser to the phone to the application. That’s where machine vision and artificial intelligence come into play. The former enables to scan a document and identify appropriate data fields, such as date or address. The AI component lets it know which is the right date or address to pull.

“For instance, your bank statement might have multiple dates in it. It might have all of your transaction dates, it’s got the statement issuance date – which is the one that we want,” Hall said. “What the artificial intelligence needs to do is say, ‘OK, there’s all these dates, but the one that I really want is right here. It’s the statement issuance date.’”

When the documents are verified as acceptable proof of identity and residency, users see a green checkmark.

No images are stored on the phone. When an image is captured, it’s moved to the application and the data is sent to the state DMV systems via a secure application programming interface. Completed documents go automatically to the DMV, where users can finish all their Real ID requirements or part of them.

“When you arrive at your appointment, you still need to bring in the originals that you pre-imaged, but the technician already has the images of them, so instead of the technician writing down and classifying the documents you brought, they already have the documents you submitted,” Hall said. “They just need to take them, they inspect the documents, compare it to the images, look at you and your face, make sure your face matches the passport, and then you’re done with respect to the evidence checks.”

Because each state has its own license-issuing process, the tool is designed to map to each one, further reducing the guesswork for applicants and the work for DMV employees, he added.

A study the company did -- and an external auditor corroborated -- found that the typical transaction time for a Real ID application at a well-run DMV is 12 minutes. Two of those a technician spends taking documents and scanning them. Sometimes multiple technicians share one scanner, adding to wait times. Showing up with the documents pre-screened saves time.

“When you shave off two minutes per applicant across populations of millions or tens of millions of residents, those numbers really add up,” Hall said.

To reassure applicants about the security of sharing such sensitive information with a third party, rather than directly with the DMV, he said that the company is the only federally certified identity provider in the country. What’s more, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is underwriting ongoing pilot tests of Real ID Pre-Screening “because the Commerce Department sees this as a meaningful way to increase the operational efficiencies of the states while promoting a new paradigm for identity, where people control their own data, not data brokers,” Hall said. can wipe the data of any user who doesn’t want the company to use it. For users who do want to retain the data, the identity verification at the DMV can be ported to other applications. For instance, veterans who apply for a Real ID would leave the DMV with that credential, but also a single sign-on that would enable them to prove their legal identity to federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The application should go live at DMVs that contracted with the company this fall, Hall said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


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