High-tech ID

By Volker Paulun (mit Material von Desko)
Official ID cards and passports are frequently needed documents during the current travel season, but have you ever bothered taking a closer look at them? We have – and discovered some astonishing facts.
© iStock

We’ve all been asked to identify ourselves at one time or another, be it at routine roadside checks or airport border control systems, when opening a bank account or signing a cell phone contract. What exactly is happening at that time? And what information do government-issued ID cards or passports reveal about us as individuals and citizens?

Few people know that personal information about them is found on official ID such as passports not only in printed form. “Many personal details like last name, first name, date of birth, etc. are present on the document in several forms, and are even contained in different types of storage media. In other words, they’re not just printed but may be stored in an integrated chip or barcode as well,” explains Alexander Zahn. He’s CEO of Desko based in Bayreuth, a company that offers specialty scanners and software for verification of international ID documents to customers around the globe. More than 250,000 Desko devices assist employees in doing their daily jobs at airports, in banks, government agencies or security firms all over the world.

Hidden features protect against fakes

By far not all the security features of passports or national ID cards are discernible with the naked eye. The documents are scanned using visible light, infrared and UV light for authentication. Every light source reveals “hidden” features indicating the document’s authenticity.

  • Scan with visible light
    Scan with visible light © Desko
  • Scan with infrared light
    Scan with infrared light © Desko
  • Scan with UV light
    Scan with UV light © Desko
  • With such a special scanner from the company Desko, hidden features in an identi ...
    With such a special scanner from the company Desko, hidden features in an identity document can be detected that are not visible to the naked eye. © Desko

For even higher protection against counterfeiting, the more or less covert security features vary from country to country. That explains why official ID requires extensive verification, and experienced passport inspectors know exactly what areas to look at. “The so-called microprint on German national ID cards is a case in point. Specialty printing methods are used to insert tiny digits and characters into the document that are visible and comparable only under extremely high resolution,” says expert Alexander Zahn. “Unless the details from these different data sources match exactly, the document has more than likely been tampered with or faked.”

High-tech ID
Tiny letters in the document only become visible under extreme resolution.© Desko

In addition to personal details, the bearer’s picture is present several times on many identification documents. Once obviously as a portrait and additionally as a photograph stored on the chip. Most documents also contain one or two holographic portraits. Those holograms become visible by tilting the relevant side of the document toward the right and left in a flat angle. So-called variable laser images are suitable for encrypting pictures, words or data as well.