Counterfeit identification and homeland security: what is to be done?

A General Accounting Office report released Wednesday shows just how simple it is to breach the security of U.S. borders and government buildings:

“Security: Counterfeit Identification Raises Homeland Security Concerns,” GAO 04-133-T, released Oct. 1, 2003 (PDF file; you can find it on the GAO site at

Scary bits: undercover investigators used off-the-shelf software to create fake identities, complete with fake birth certificates. Alternatively, they used real birth certificates, which are public record in some places (making sure not to duplicate living people by cross-referencing with the Social Security Death Index, which is also publicly available). They then used the fake documents, or real documents obtained fraudulently by presenting the fake documents, to enter the U.S. without a passport from neighboring countries, purchase firearms (the instant background check will only pick up criminal convictions and other events that would keep a person from legally purchasing a firearm; people who have been dead for decades, or who have no negative history, won’t pop up), and obtain fake law enforcement building passes to enter government buildings. Details are in the report.

How can this type of fraud be prevented, or at least minimized? At what point does something like a national I.D. card, or at the very least a standard, nationwide (or even 50 different statewide) birth certificate format(s) start to be a good idea?

Eva, I know you work in the immigration field, so stop me if this sounds ludicrous.

Would it be of any interest to include SSN on drivers’ licences, passports, and other forms of ID, then require at least two forms of ID, including a form of ID which included the SSN, to purchase firearms, get law enforcement passes, etc.? At the very least, it would cut down on this particular scam. (Since the Social Security Death Index is publicly available, you or I can check it too, and find out very quickly that the SSN is a fake.)

**Duke, ** I don’t like the idea of increasing the number of times a person is required to show a SS#; it’s required for too many other confidential purposes, and something like a driver’s license or a passport is required to be shown in too many situations to people who have no need to know your SS#. Plus keep in mind that lots of people who are in the U.S. perfectly legally are not even eligible for a SS#, such as many students, dependents of people here on work visas, etc. (The current position of the SSA is that you are only eligible for a SS# if you are legally authorized to work, which people in the former categories are generally not.) If you’re going to do that, why not just require them to show the SS card in conjunction with photo ID with a matching name and birthdate?

(Of course, I have no idea what the ID requirements for a firearms license are. But here in Illinois, the Secretary of State won’t issue a driver’s license to someone with no SS#. It sucks right now; a lot of non-employment authorized dependent spouses can’t obtain a driver’s license. How the hell are they supposed to get around, especially in the burbs or rural areas where there is little or no public transportation? Some, but not all other states have the same requirement; it’s a very hot issue right now.)

Plus plenty of people here for long periods are not U.S. citizens (there is no requirement to naturalize, and plenty of people live here their entire lives on green cards), and we certainly can’t require foreign countries to include a U.S. SS# on their passports. And if you check the report, it mentions that certain states don’t check the SS Death Index when issuing driver’s licenses. I suppose at a bare minimum, matters could be improved by fixing at least that small but important issue.

Mrs Duckster and I recently flew on a vacation, passing through several airport security checkpoints. At every airport we were stopped and our IDs were checked by airline personnel, local security and the new federal TSA folks.

We had no hassles going through security at any airport, nor the several checkpoints at each airport.

Mrs Duckster showed her state-issued drivers license as identification. It’s a top quality license, digitally mastered, has security features embedded in the image and plastic, yadda, yadda. One would not expect her to be stopped and question because her ID did not pass muster.

OTOH, I deliberately used my official federal government identification, issued by my employer. This official federal government ID is a standard government card form issued by the agency. The information is hand-typed on the card, hand signed by myself and the issuing officer. It contains a Polaroid photograph of yours truly, with just my face image hand cut from the original Polaroid photograph (meaning all four sides are not even, let alone parallel). All of this is hand laminated in clear plastic.

All in all, a poor visual appearance if I do say so myself. It could very well be the work of a couple of teenagers creating a fake ID to buy beer of something similar.

During the whole trip, my federal government ID was never questioned. I was never asked to produced a different government issued ID (such as my drivers licenses, etc.).