Staff Editorial: Who’s who?

Identification fraud is a fast growing, lucrative crime that costs billions of dollars annually and aids criminals in more than just stealing money. All 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers assumed multiple identities and used fraudulently obtained identification. The current patchwork system for establishing someone’s identity is made up of measures never intended to serve such a purpose. There is no easy solution to identification fraud, but with such high stakes, perhaps the United States should throw out the current ineffective system for a national, standardized identification system.

Over 16,000 different forms of valid birth certificates are issued in the United States. States issue 243 different types of drivers’ licenses. No one could possibly be familiar with so many different identifying documents, let alone hope to spot an acceptable proportion of fakes.

Social Security numbers have been compromised. Used for everything from GW student numbers to identifiers for credit card accounts, our ubiquitous SSNs are now widely available on the internet and from other sources. With so many variations of identifying documents and the ease of obtaining a person’s SSN, the current system is easy to exploit, as the Sept. 11 terrorists showed.

An improved identification system would benefit businesses and consumers, too. The U.S. Secret Service says that last year its identification fraud cases represented $1.4 billion in funds bilked from businesses and consumers. Making it easier for businesses to establish a consumer’s identity would make it more difficult for crooks to pass as someone else. Less fraud means lower costs for businesses and maybe lower costs for consumers, too.

A national system would consist of an identification card designed and standardized by the federal government and distributed by states receiving federal money. Ideally, it would be linked to a database that verifies a person’s identity without tracking their movements unless the card holder gives permission, or police obtain a warrant.

No one wants to create a “Big Brother” system for government to spy on citizens. Such a system would be impractical and un-American. What is important, though, is ensuring the safety of all Americans and their hard-earned money. Thieves and terrorists are easily exploiting our current system. We should replace it with one that has a chance to work.

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