ID theft undermines integrated terror watch lists

FRAMINGHAM (10/03/2003) - Despite the government's recent efforts to integrate dozens of watch list databases, terrorists may still be slipping through numerous cracks in the nation's homeland defenses by stealing identities and using computers to create fraudulent travel documents, officials told Congress.

Testifying before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security this week, Ronald D. Malfi, director of the General Accounting Office's Office of Special Investigations, said that over the past three years, investigators have succeeded in using fraudulent identities and documents created on home computers to do things like enter the U.S., buy firearms and gain unfettered access to government buildings.

"We created fictitious identities and counterfeit identification documents, such as driver's licenses, birth certificates and Social Security cards . . . using inexpensive computer software and hardware that are readily available to any purchaser," said Malfi.

"It's relatively easy for a terrorist to pose as someone else," said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.). "And the impact is that the integrated terrorist watch list and other databases that the (DHS) is sharing with other agencies is ineffective if we're not identifying (people)."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a self-proclaimed "card-carrying civil libertarian," said the nature of the vulnerabilities has led her and others to rethink the issue of a national ID card.

However, Keith Kiser, chairman of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said a national ID card is unnecessary and would probably require IT systems that are currently not in place. Instead, Kiser argued that the existing IT infrastructure serving state motor vehicle departments, which is used to verify identities and issue valid driver's licenses, should be enhanced and standardized.

Kiser urged Congress to support a massive IT upgrade for motor vehicle departments that would include providing a uniform system to verify in real time an applicant's driving history and the authenticity of documents used to establish his identity, such as Social Security cards and taxpayer ID numbers.

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