Even after a popular maker of fake ID’s among teenagers was shut down after bipartisan lobbying, the threat posed by such companies remains very real and “shows that there are holes in current U.S. law,” identity advocate Brian Zimmer tells Newsmax.TV.
“They established a new business model,” Zimmer, president of the Coalition for Secure Drivers Licenses, tells Newmax. He was referring to ID Chief, an Internet company based in China that produced such high-quality counterfeit IDs and driver’s licenses that they could not be detected by law enforcement.
ID Chief was shut down earlier this month after four U.S. senators — Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Tom Harkin of Iowa — lobbied the Chinese Embassy to crack down on the company.
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Zimmer’s Washington-based nonprofit, established within two months of the 9/11 attacks, lobbies for improved security for state-issued driver’s licenses and government-issued ID cards.
“ID Chief has been operating a very sophisticated sales program,” he said. “They advertised on Facebook. They ran chat lines to ask for improvements to their products — and when their customers lost their driver’s licenses because a bouncer astutely recognized them as a counterfeit, ID Chief encouraged their customers to tell them how so they could fix whatever it was that they hadn’t successfully replicated.
“ID Chief operated like a modern Internet-based company and took advantage of Internet features,” Zimmer added. “They were making enough money that they could advertise, and did, on Google. So that, on the supply side, shows that there are holes in current U.S. law.”
States vary in their guidelines for issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards but must adhere to the Real ID Act of 2005. The law established federal guidelines under which such identification can be used for “official purposes” that have been designated by the Department of Homeland Security.
Those purposes are for boarding airlines and entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants. Otherwise, there are no national standards for issuing driver’s licenses or ID cards.
But five states, Zimmer said, have the best safeguards: Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, South Dakota and Delaware.
“They go beyond the Real ID standards to ensure the security of their processes, and what that means is they’re ensuring the security of their residents from fraud and imposters, because a big part of the growing risk in a post-9/11 world is still identity theft and the identity fraud that derives from it.”
Identity-theft rings remain rampant, Zimmer said, noting that “there are, at any time, probably 20 to 50 rings running in the United States.”
He cited a particular problem at the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. “Florida is constantly having the Florida DMV working with the local police to break up those kinds of gangs, some of them operating from neighboring states.”
“It shows how weak our current defenses are against it,” Zimmer said. “We shouldn’t be contending with this to the degree that we are.”
One thing, however, the Real ID law has prevented, he said, is collusion and fraud involving state employees who have created and issued false IDs.
“Most of the Real ID regulations have to do with securing systems, limiting access of personal information to people who need that information, setting up controls so people can’t collude with outside folks – whether they’re criminal or illegal aliens – to get driver’s licenses they shouldn’t get or get them in names that aren’t their own.”
“There’s been some pretty aggressive investigations internally and that’s why you see these employees being indicted,” including those in Massachusetts and Florida.
Zimmer said he is so concerned about tighter ID standards because of terrorism and immigration. He noted that more than 50 million non-citizens live in the US, including as many as 12 million who are here illegally.
“That’s the largest percentage we’ve had since before the Revolution, and it creates a lot of headaches for federal agencies and state and local agencies — just sorting out who is and is not entitled to which kind of protection under the law,” Zimmer said. “We have an estimated half million absconders still roaming the country. Those are people who have orders of deportation but are still here.
“And just on a procedural basis, this creates a lot of headaches for law enforcement without a clear differentiation.”
The issue of tougher ID standards is even more critical as the Nov. 6 elections near, Zimmer said.
Tennessee and Georgia are states that are “doing it right,” he said. “What they’re saying is, ‘We want only one kind of voter ID, and that’s one we’ve actually confirmed the identity of the person to whom we’re issuing the ID.’ In other words, they’re sending people to their state DMV offices.
“Tennessee has actually sent people out to the homes of older people, or people who live in remote areas, to help them get IDs.”
But Zimmer attacked Pennsylvania legislators for passing “rather absurd ID laws.” It was among 11 states to pass laws since 2010 requiring voters to show some form of legal identification.
A judge this past week rejected an effort to block the law, which civil rights groups argued discriminates against minority voters. They say it erects unfair hurdles for many legitimate Pennsylvania voters who lack an acceptable form of identification.
But supporters, including the Republican-dominated legislature and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, said the law was necessary to prevent fraud and to keep non-citizens from voting.
Pennsylvania is a key battleground state in this year’s election between President Barack Obama and his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
“Here’s where a little more than a declaration of name gets you a voter ID,” Zimmer said. “That doesn’t really address or solve the problem of confirming the identity of the person who’s voting because if you’re astute, you can simply go around to different voter ID shops and give a different name in everyone because you’re not being required to show any substantive evidence of who you are.”
“So there are two kinds of voter ID laws,” he added. “There are some that definitely provide a remedy for the risk of imposture but there are others that I think are feel-good, do-nothing or do little, as the Pennsylvania law is.”
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