Many pundits have posited that the United States needs better identity cards and, in some cases, have argued for national identity cards.
Much of the time the argument for new identification measures rests on the fact that our current amalgam of identification is horribly insecure. Wide-open drivers' licenses and a proof of identity that general consists of an easily discoverable set of facts, such as date of birth and social security numbers, make adopting another person less than difficult. Without a doubt, it needs to be improved.
However, the recent arrests of the suspected members of an identity crime syndicate underscores the difficulties in building a trusted system. Typically, such a system would require a foolproof way to establish a person's identity, an unforgeable technology for ID cards, and proper handling of access controls to the information on the card.
Yet, according to information posted by the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey in the latest case, a group of 19 people were able to use account numbers and counterfeit identity documents to steal identities and defraud banks and retailers to the tune of $4.3 million.
As interesting, however, is a story that will undoubtedly be largely uncovered by the media, but which was posted on the U.S. Attorney's site on the same day: The arrest of a 40-year-old county clerk who admitted to selling authentic New Jersey birth certificates.
Such cases show that even unforgeable ID technology that protects the data on the card will not prevent terrorists from adopting other identities as long as government workers are able to circumvent the system and sell, not forged identities, but the real thing.