In fact, ultimately I had two fake IDs. Like Charles Kuffner, I'm one of the unhappy few Texans back in the 1980s who reached 19 years old, could legally drink for a few months, then saw the laws change to restrict drinking again until I was 21, so I had to get a second fake ID when I was in college. I don't really recall how I got them, or from whom, but it wasn't difficult, and I didn't know any underage folks who wanted to drink who found the ID thing to be a real barrier.
Supposedly, 9/11 upped the ante on fake IDs. Forget for a moment that the actual hijackers had real IDs issued by government agencies based on forged primary documents. None of these new high-tech ID card programs would have affected what they did at all. Regardless, though, technology vendors, motor vehicle registration agencies, and most of all the Bush Administration are promoting the wrongheaded notion that throwing more high tech gadgetry at the ID problem will solve it.
This technophile reaction to 9/11 holds that every potential danger can be resolved by purchasing this facial recognition technology or that newfangled, bar-coded ID to prevent terrorism. It won't. It can't even prevent 19-year olds from buying beer, much less prevent committed adults willing to give their own lives from killing a lot of people.
The frantic search for techological solutions doesn't even make sense. The terrorists' strategy on 9/11 was to use LOW-tech means to exploit our society's reliance on high tech gizmos -- they used box cutters to take over a plane, for heaven's sake -- so the high-tech solution is obviously, precisely the WRONG strategy to confront the direct threat, like fighting fires with gasoline.
A fascinating article in this morning's New York Times demonstrates to me the fallacy of thinking technology can stop a creative, determined opponent from getting a fake ID. Titled, "The ID Wars: The Fakes Gain," the fascinating conclusion is even worse than the title -- the fakes were always ahead, and those who would prevent the creation of fake IDs do not now and have never been able to do so. All the new technology brought to bear on the problem has been stymied, or even made things worse as the pool of people technically qualified to make sophisticated fakes has grown exponentially.
Despite these obvious unintended consequences to the security crowds techno-fervor, vendors and government agencies continue to tout endlessly more expensive high tech solutions, always justifying them with trying to prevent terrorism:
While getting a fake ID is a right [sic] of passage for many young people who want no more than access to the occasional six-pack or campus pub, the potential security threat posed by forged drivers' licenses - most prominently, the threat of access to commercial airliners - has cast the old barroom conflict in a new light.
"People think of fake ID's for buying beer or cigarettes when you're 19," said Sgt. William Planeta, who runs the New York Police Department's document fraud squad. "But it has a lot of different implications in a post-9/11 world. You can use that fake ID to do all sorts of things."
In an effort to catch up with counterfeiters, therefore, the government and a growing document verification industry are turning to both legislation and technological innovations. "We're going to give the fake ID a run for its money," said James E. Copple, the director of the nonprofit International Institute for Alcohol Awareness at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, with headquarters in Maryland, which studies public health.
That gentleman, Mr. Copple, is kidding himself -- or else blowing smoke to justify his next research grant or pet vendor's product. Those kids are going to run him to death. He'll never be smarter than a million committed underage would-be drinkers. Not on his best day. Not on anybody's. They know what they want, have money to get it, and that level of high-dollar demand will cause market solutions to avail themselves. Reported the Times:
"ID's made by students tend to be much better than ID's you buy in the Village or Times Square," said a 19-year-old Columbia sophomore who has a fake driver's license and asked not to be identified for fear of the police. As for the importance of having a fake ID, she said: "All of my friends have fake ID's, everyone I know from high school and all my friends at school. It's definitely a necessity."
Over time, technology, skills, and high-tech resources have become cheap and available to anybody, in particular to many, many students. New high-tech ID card gadgetry, by the time it's identified by the govenment, researched, opened for bids, a vendor is chosen, and the technology is used in the real world, often has already been rendered antiquated upon its release by the rapid-pace growth of cutting edge technology, and lots of people know how to manipulate it. Said the Times:
THE nation's fixation with security cards and ID systems has also been a boon for manufacturers of fake ID's. The widespread use of corporate ID's has created a large pool of people who know the inner workings of the security features in the cards. In online chat rooms dedicated exclusively to the manufacture of fake ID's, unscrupulous members of this pool - including some drivers' license bureau workers, the police say - share or sell information about security features and even run a black market in the more sophisticated components of ID's.
"There are guys online who manufacture the bar codes and holograms," said the Columbia student who made fake ID's. "The hologram like on a Texas will glow. I can order that." ...
Licenses store information in two formats: magnetic stripes like those on credit cards, and two-dimensional bar codes, strips of small dots arranged to convey information in a kind of graphic Morse code. Magnetic stripes can be erased with a magnet and reprogrammed with, say, a new birth date, using basic ID-making equipment, and bar codes can be photocopied or transferred from a legitimate ID to a fake one.
None of the current drivers license re-engineering proposals in Texas will stop fake ID-makers who are able to do all that. I can't think of any that would, and if they did, the idea would probably be outdated by the time it hit the streets. The technical capabilities and physical means for making fakes have simply become too democratized and well-dispersed to think ID cards can be a source of absolute security. Texas DPS was awfully proud of that hologram, for example, bragging to the Legislature when it was implemented, just as we hear now, that it would solve the fake ID problem. Instead, the kids think it's a joke and it hasn't even come close to stopping the fakes. The Times described a Louisiana case where LSU students were manufacturing "perfect" Texas IDs:
Often when the police encounter a fake ID these days, they are more interested in getting information on who made it than in prosecuting the under-age user.
That was the case in Louisiana in late 2003, when a 19-year-old L.S.U. student named Corey James Domingue died of acute alcohol poisoning after using a fake Texas driver's license to buy four fifths of liquor from a local Winn-Dixie supermarket. By questioning Mr. Domingue's roommate and friends with similar forged ID's, Louisiana authorities were able to unravel a high-tech ring that had issued thousands of counterfeit licenses.
"These kids built their own computers from scratch," said Steven E. Spalitta, the enforcement director of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, who handled the case. "We learned the ID's were not just perfect but they were encoded. There's almost no way you can tell it's a fake with the naked eye."
In all, five people pleaded guilty to forgery and a sixth is facing trial. Using computer records Mr. Spalitta's agency also tracked down and issued hundreds of criminal citations to students who bought fake ID's from the ring.
The worst part, I'll guarantee there were 20 more ready to take their place. They're never going to stop that. If every 19 year old who wants one can get a fake ID, then no terrorist would have any difficulty -- that much of the technophile's arguments are true. But the nexus of possibility they fear has nothing to do with how the terrorists attacked us -- they planted sleepers in the U.S. who had legitimate documentation, not crude, dorm-room fakes. It's a logical fallacy, then, to conclude that to stop the terrorists, one must prevent underage drinkers from getting fake IDs. The latter may be a desirable goal, and society may even decide it's worthy of investing substantial resources to try, however futilely, to do so. But everyone should be clear -- it has nothing to do with Al Quaeda or stopping terrorism.
High-tech government ID schemes are expensive, speculative, and, to judge from recent technological history and trends, doomed to fail at the goal of preventing their reproduction. They serve only to limit and regulate the law abiding. Anybody determined to obtain a fake ID will find a way to do so.