SPECIAL REPORT: Wanna fake driver’s license? Easy as pie, GAO says

| 9/10/2003

General Accounting Office investigators with a fist-full of falsified documents easily convinced motor vehicle agencies around the country to issue genuine drivers licenses – thereby giving terrorists an advantage when planning future attacks, GAO said in a report.

The report was released Sept. 9 at a Senate Finance Oversight Committee hearing on national security.

“False identification is one of the first steps terrorists must take to assimilate into American life as part of a sleeper cell,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. “With counterfeit identity documents or a valid identity document under an alias, terrorists can function in everyday society while providing support for accomplices or plotting their own attacks.”

Grassley organized the hearing to focus on the way document fraud, identity theft and Social Security number misuse can endanger homeland security.

“As far as driver’s license issuing is concerned, we’re no more safe from terrorists than we were before September the 11th,” Grassley said, as reported by NBC News. “The findings showed me that there isn’t a state in the nation geared up to being concerned about fake IDs before giving a driver’s license.”

Agents operating undercover in seven states and the District of Columbia ultimately obtained drivers licenses at every agency where they applied during the investigation, which began in July 2002.

The most serious vulnerabilities occurred in California, where GAO agents received three temporary state driver’s licenses within two days using the same fake information.

In many of the eight overall locations, investigators were initially turned away by motor vehicle employees who spotted document problems. However, the fake paperwork was never confiscated, and law-enforcement officials were never notified. So the agents left the motor vehicle office, addressed the problems and reapplied – often on the same day, with success, NBC reported.

GAO investigated offices in Maryland, Virginia, California, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and New York.

AAMVA testifies

The hearing featured testimony from Linda Lewis, president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

“We are not surprised by the findings of the GAO investigation. In fact, we believe this investigation is long overdue. The report adds to the mounting evidence that we need to fix our driver licensing process,” Lewis said. “Many of our members are taking steps to improve the licensing process within their own state borders. However, until we implement uniform practices, the process remains fragmented and vulnerable. As a result, we increase the opportunities for identity theft and put at risk our nation’s national security and highway safety.”

AAMVA recommended all of the following steps to improve the situation:

  • Tightened application requirements for getting a driver’s license; 
  • Electronic verification of an applicant’s driver history and breeder documents; 
  • Improved processes for issuance, including internal audits and employee training;
  • Increased penalties for fraud; and 
  • Participation by all states in a “Driver’s License Agreement,” which would be a new interstate compact.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@landlinemag.com.