F. Y. I. - Question - NYTimes.com
No ID Needed, Technically
Q. Is it illegal to be on the streets of New York City without identification? Suppose someone committed a minor violation like riding a bicycle on a pedestrian path in Central Park. If a person without identification were stopped by the police, could they make an arrest?
A. This isn’t 1960s Pretoria. You don’t have to carry identity papers, as long as you aren’t driving.
But if you are stopped by the police for breaking the law, not having an ID can be very inconvenient, noted Paul Browne, a police spokesman. “For example,” he said, “an individual who commits a relatively minor offense and has proper identification would typically receive a summons and be free to go. However, if he or she failed to produce identification, the person may be taken into custody until his or her identification can be established.”
This practice prevents someone from avoiding a summons, Mr. Browne said; more important, it keeps people wanted for serious crimes from getting away by claiming they have no ID.
Partly by insisting that even those suspected of petty offenses, like turnstile jumpers, be held if needed to verify their identities, the Police Department reduced reported crimes in the subways to 6 a day last year from 48 daily in 1990.
Incidentally, a photocopy of your license, in part because it can be easily altered, is not considered valid identification.