Insights & Analyses

French artist dupes officials, gets 3D generated image of face printed on ID card

June 16, 2017

An artist in France submitted a 3D-rendered photorealistic image of his own face for a national ID card, and the image was accepted, showcasing just how unreliable traditional identity methods can be.

Earlier this year, Raphaël Fabre submitted the fake image to the government along with a request for a new French ID card. He noted that the 3D model meets all of the government’s requirements for an ID, including likeness and proper lighting.

However, the image is not an actual photograph. Fabre fabricated it using software used to create special effects for movies and video games.

“It is a digital image, where the body is absent, the result of an artificial process,” Fabre wrote.

The con was possible in France because the country’s ID card rules are more lax than other places in the world. For example, French residents are allowed to produce their own portraits for identification, while in the U.S. citizens must go to a government building, like the DMV, to have a picture taken by an official.

France’s rules are akin to applying for a passport in America, providing citizens with a set of parameters they must meet with their own provided photograph. The image must be clear and against a plain background, and the size of the face should be between 32 and 36 millimeters.

Even when the photographs on IDs are legitimate, the system is far from perfect. Ron Atzmon, managing director for Au10Tix, told the State of Identity podcast last December that common life occurrences such as weight gain or balding present major obstacles for anti-impersonation checks.

These imperfect systems sometimes rely on a government official comparing the person’s current, real-life appearance to an older, photographed one on an ID card. The identity check can quickly fall apart if the person’s appearance has drastically changed in the time since the ID was made.

“It is still a human being that is in this equation, for good and for worse,” Atzmon said.

Assuming, of course, the photograph on the ID is actually a person, and not a digital creation.