The Electronic Verification of Vital Events (EVVE) system is a national network exchanging information between government agencies to verify birth events. It’s a hub-and-spoke architecture centered at the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), of which I used to be a member. Let’s say that you want to get a drivers license. You show up at a DMV office with your ID and your birth certificate. In years past, that birth certificate contained security features to show the DMV that it was authentic. That’s not as important now. With EVVE, the DMV sends an electronic query to NAPHSIS who brokers it to a state vital records server, which then verifies (or not) the information and routes the reply back to the DMV. If the birth certificate is fictitious or altered, EVVE will say so. This electronic wizardry is designed to support the REAL ID Act of 2005. I had some tangential involvement with EVVE implementation early on.
Most states have EVVE implemented today [link to Microsoft PowerPoint file], although not every implementation has all of their records in electronic form. Hawaii has birth records back to 1909 online for EVVE (well done, Hawaii, well done) while Connecticut only has records since 1993—tough luck to George W. Bush if he wants to get a drivers license verified through EVVE. New York isn’t online yet.
This electronic system and the REAL ID Act might have been the reason Doug Vogt imagined that federal law required all states to store electronic images of their birth certificates. EVVE, however, doesn’t work with images; it works with text.
Most vital records fraud involves real certificates carried by someone other than their owner. That’s why a photo ID is necessary in addition to a birth certificate to get a passport. EVVE pretty much eliminates fictitious and altered certificates, but for records not in the EVVE system, there’s still the fall back security built into certificates, specifically, security paper and seals.
Security paper isn’t designed to copy well (or be easily altered). This means that anyone trying to do scanning experiments with President Obama’s long form birth certificate is at a severe disadvantage without some real security paper to test with and this is why it came as such a shock to me when I saw Cold Case Posse document darling Garrett Papit testing with a sample birth certificate clearly NOT on real security paper. Not that the Cold Case Posse results had any validity to to begin with, but at least they could have forked out $25.90 for a pack of off-the-shelf basket weave security paper. So where are all those PayPal donations going?
I’m no expert on security paper, but I know a lot more than the average guy. When I worked on vital records projects for the State of South Carolina, I became familiar with the security features on their certificate. If you showed me anything less than a spy-grade fake for a 1977 SC certificate, I could spot the fake in a second–and without even a magnifying glass. I don’t know if my technique is public knowledge or not, so I won’t say anything more about that except to note that intaglio printing with machine engraving was used on the certificate and the pale colored background rubs off if you try to erase it. Following is a wallet-sized specimen certificate from South Carolina used by county offices in 1977, intentionally scanned at a low-enough resolution to obscure details.
I had a conversation with a vital records official who showed me some of the publicly-known security features in that state’s certificate. They included tonal gradations, micro printing and thermal ink. She said that if she showed me the other security features, she would have to kill me. (By mutual agreement, I was not shown the other security features.) If you’ve ever received a pay check from ADP, an out-sourcing payroll company, you’ve seen the three features I mentioned (the thermal ink is on the back). I attended a seminar by a fellow who helped design the ADP payroll check who talked about its features. Finally, I sat for hours on end in a trade show booth, next to the booth of the American Bank Note Company who was pitching their portfolio of security features to state officials. Some banknote certificate paper can cost upwards of a dollar a sheet.
It has always puzzled me how simple a Hawaiian certificate is, compared to the specimen above, an ADP check, or the the Indiana certificate that I received a tour of. There are Hawaiian birth certificates on banknote security paper for some years that I have seen (but don’t have a handy link to). On the other hand, I have never actually seen an actual certified copy of a Hawaiian Birth Certificate. There may be security features not picked up on any scan. Somebody said that there was UV ink on it. Perhaps it relates to how far back Hawaii has their records available for verification online.
Since this article was originally published, I have obtained some Simpson DesignSecure™ Basketweave Pattern security paper that appears to be very much like the paper used by the State of Hawaii.