GAO: Fake IDs yield passports

People using counterfeit identification documents can easily obtain official United States passports from the State Department, according to a new investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

Terrorist or criminals can exploit gaps in the system to obtain genuine U.S. passports based on false or stolen identities, GAO said in a report posted on the Web on March 13.

GAO undercover investigators were successful in obtaining four passports by using counterfeit identity documents and Social Security numbers from people who were fictitious or deceased, and an investigator was able to use one of those passports to buy an airline ticket, pass through airport security and board a plane, GAO said.

The investigation shows State's system for issuing passports is not fully secured against fraud, GAO concluded, also saying State and its agents have trouble determining the authenticity of the identity documents, including birth certificates and driver's licenses, presented by applicants.

“State officials agreed with GAO that the investigation exposes a major vulnerability in State’s passport issuance process,” the report said. “According to State officials, State’s fraud detection efforts are hampered by limitations to its information-sharing and data access with other federal and state agencies.”

Between July 2005 and August 2008, State and FBI officials identified 112 individuals who had fraudulently gotten passports by using the birth certificates of deceased Americans.

Meanwhile, State has not offered an estimate of the full magnitude of the problem, GAO said, and that department needs greater cooperation from federal and state authorities and greater ability to access other agencies’ records in real time.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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