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Tim Leslie - Contributor

Tim Leslie represents California’s 4th Assembly District.

Playing With Fire
California’s system of issuing I.D. is dangerous and getting worse
[Tim Leslie] 9/27/03

Time was when teenagers who sought fake ID for buying alcohol ventured into seedy neighborhoods or visited back-aisle booths at the swap meet. A just-released investigation by the federal government indicates that today’s wayward teens might have an easier time getting what they want at the DMV.

The investigation, directed by the U.S. General Accounting Office to examine how easily false identifying documents can be obtained nationwide, netted troubling news for the Golden State. summarized the results succinctly, “The most serious vulnerabilities appeared in California…”

In one case, investigative agents obtained three temporary driver’s licenses in California within two days using a single set of fabricated information. The details could have provided filler for an Austin Power’s movie. When an agent failed the standard eye exam, he simply switched places with another agent; the second man took the exam, then passed the positive results to the first agent, earning him a license. Meanwhile, a third investigator, using identical data in another line in the same office, was also issued a temporary license.

As the report spells out, “No one at the DMV noticed that two individuals were simultaneously using the same fictitious name and same fraudulent supporting paperwork.” Disconcertingly, the same agents had already received a temporary license a day earlier from a different location, using the same name.

Of course, underage drinking is not the only dubious doorway opened by illegitimate identification. In the information age, state-issued identifying documents are the equivalent of a locksmith’s master key, capable of opening access to airplanes, voting booths, bank accounts and other important privileges. There is no doubt that such opportunities can be manipulated for all manner of serious mischief by con artists, identity thieves, and terrorists alike.

Governor Davis understands this reality. At least, he did twelve months ago. Explaining his veto of a relatively well-written bill last year that would have provided driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, he wrote, “the tragedy of September 11 made it abundantly clear that the driver’s license is more than just a license to drive; it is one of the primary documents we use to identify ourselves. Unfortunately, a driver’s license was in the hands of terrorists who attacked America on that fateful day.”

Yet despite the breathtakingly high stakes, California’s leadership has shown an almost shocking ambivalence toward the matter. Two measures I carried recently to tighten security for identifying documents and punish fake I.D. merchants received quiet deaths at the hands of the majority party. One bill would have made it a felony to sell fake state-issued I.D. The other would have brought felony charges against information traffickers who harvest and sell the non-public, personal information of other individuals.

Sadly, when the majority party deep-sixed these and other security-enhancing measures, it was just warming up. As if the California system—revealed by the federal study to be so woefully inadequate—were not porous enough already, they have blown a hole in the gate large enough for Osama bin Laden to ride through on a donkey. With Governor Davis’ signature of SB 60, virtually anyone will be able to obtain a state driver’s license without any check into their background or real identity. All a person need do is obtain a Tax Identification Number via phone, waltz into the DMV with a fabricated phone or electric bill, and voila!, an official California driver’s license is theirs for the asking.

If teenage alcohol consumption were the only vice likely to be propagated by this breakdown of security, the majority party might be right in portraying their critics as overreacting. But, as the public knows, that is the least of our worries. Showing remarkable good sense in this matter, Californians overwhelmingly opposed SB 60 in the latest Field Poll by a 59% to 34% margin. This does not mean they are anti-immigrant or even that they would not support seeking a safer means of providing driver’s training and licensure to undocumented immigrants. It simply indicates that the public understands what Gray Davis has forgotten: the security of state-issued identifying documents is a very serious matter.Sadly, the Legislature and the governor appear entirely deaf to the public outcry. It seems only two sounds may be capable of breaking through—the shattering glass and twisting steel of another falling tower, or else the booming echo of voters willing to make deep changes in California’s current leadership. Let’s pray it is the latter.



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