Time to take secure identification seriously
Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-CA24)
The 9/11 Commission's final report recognizes that secure identification documents are key to a secure homeland. Because of that recognition, the commission recommended that the federal government "should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's licenses."
"Fraud in identification documents is no longer a problem of theft," the commission wrote. "At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists."
I agree that we need national standards for state-issued identification documents. In addition, the federal government also must take a hard look at its own identification policies.
In the wake of 9/11, we enacted many reforms to make our country safer and more difficult to penetrate. We federalized many airport screeners, with an eye toward control over a workforce that is the last line of defense against terrorists boarding domestic flights. We also enacted changes designed to clamp down on terrorist financing, requiring that banks verify customer identity.
These are important steps, but in the nearly three years since we have allowed these reforms to be undermined by lax identity requirements. The Transportation Security Administration, the national last line of defense to keep terrorists off airplanes, accepts all kinds of non-secure identifications to board airliners, including the matricula consular and foreign voter registration cards. The Department of Treasury has also undermined "know your customer" requirements for banks by permitting banks to accept non-secure identifications, including the matricula consular.
In response, I introduced two bills during this Congress to clamp down on the federal government accepting non-secure IDs. The first would prohibit federal employees from accepting foreign-issued IDs that are not passports. The second would punish those illegally in the country who use foreign IDs other than passports to satisfy the requirements of
federal law, such as identity requirements at airports and banks.
FBI officials highlighted their concerns about non-secure IDs during recent congressional testimony: "The ability of foreign nationals to use the matricula consular to create well-documented, but fictitious, identity in the United States provides an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without triggering name-based watch lists."
Of particular concern to the FBI is that terrorists can then use these fake identities to board airplanes.
Terrorists can use non-secure IDs to circumvent national security laws, to enter secure spaces, and to access services, such as banking. This means Congress must take a hard look at systems that states use to issue identifications. The federal government must also take a hard look at its policies. We must end the practices of some government agencies that enable terrorists to make end runs around policies enacted to protect us all.
Secure identification is key to clamping down on everything from terrorist travel to terrorist financing. It is high time that all levels of government take secure identification seriously.
Elton Gallegly is chairman of the International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives.