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Red Team Operation Reveals Ease of Obtaining Counterfeit IDs

September 28th 2012

Waiting at the DMV

A federal “Red Team” demonstrated the ease with which a person is able to obtain a valid driver’s license complete with photograph using stolen identity information or fictitious biographic information, according to the head of a non-partisan, public-interest group on Tuesday.

Brian Zimmer, President of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, said in statement released on Tuesday: “The [Red Team] replicated the same techniques used by the 9/11 terrorists to get more than 30 driver’s licenses and [photo] IDs from state licensing agencies. To obtain a driver’s license with your photo but with someone else’s biographic information or with fictitious information, terrorists need only travel to a state where identification standards are low and service is fast. Terrorists planning future attacks on Americans will be delighted by GAO’s findings, but Congress should be very concerned.”

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Sept. 21, 2012, titled “Driver’s License Security—Federal Leadership Needed to Address Remaining Vulnerabilities,” the GAO demonstrated that counterfeit documents can still be used to easily obtain valid driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards under fictitious identities, and recommended that the Department of Homeland Security exert leadership in correcting the problem.

The GAO’s investigators obtained five driver’s licenses in three different states under fictitious identities using combinations of names, birthdates, and Social Security Numbers together with counterfeit documents. In two states, a GAO investigator was able to obtain two licenses with different identities using the same person’s face. Only in one case did a motor vehicle employee appear to question the validity of the documents being presented—but the GAO investigator was still able to obtain a driver’s license.

“The investigators exploited cross state information vulnerabilities by using counterfeit driver’s licenses from states other than the ones where they were issued valid driver’s licenses. There’s nothing to stop tomorrow’s terrorists from obtaining valid driver’s licenses in states where a pre-9/11 mentality prioritizes speedy customer service over the careful identity authentication of applicants. There are technological solutions to counter this risk, some of those made possible by federal systems and some from industry. The REAL ID Act identity security standards published in 2008 provide a framework for closing vulnerabilities like those exploited by GAO investigators, but compliance with those rules is voluntary,” Zimmer noted.

Officials in many states said they have difficulties detecting forged birth certificates. Verifying date of birth is also required by the Act, and a system exists for doing so, but no licensing agencies are using it because of concerns about incomplete data, among other reasons. Partly because these two systems are not fully operational, GAO investigators were able to use counterfeit out-of-state drivers’ licenses and birth certificates to fraudulently obtain licenses in three states.

The Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License strongly endorses the GAO’s Recommendations for Executive Action (quoted from page 32 of GAO-12-893 Driver’s License Security):

To enhance state driver licensing agencies’ ability to combat driver’s license fraud, consistent with the requirements of the REAL ID Act, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security take the following interim actions while national systems to detect cross-state and birth certificate fraud are being developed:

1. Work with state, federal and other partners to develop and implement an interim strategy for addressing cross-state license fraud. Such a strategy could include, for example, expansion of AAMVA’s photo sharing program or enhanced utilization of SSOLV to identify SSNs that are queried multiple times by different states. This strategy should include plans for sharing best practices and ideas for alternative solutions among the states.

2. Work with states and other partners to develop and implement an interim strategy for addressing birth certificate fraud. Such a strategy could include, for example, coordination between driver licensing agencies and state vital records agencies to verify birth certificates for license applicants born in-state.

Jim Kouri writes for the Examiner, from where this article is adapted.


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