Driver's License Security: Federal Leadership Needed to Address Remaining Vulnerabilities

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-09-21.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States Government Accountability Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Requesters

September 2012
                 DRIVER’S LICENSE
                 Federal Leadership
                 Needed to Address

                                              September 2012

                                              DRIVER’S LICENSE SECURITY
                                              Federal Leadership Needed to Address Remaining
Highlights of GAO-12-893, a report to
congressional requesters.

                                              What GAO Found
Why GAO Did This Study
                                              To verify license applicants’ identity, all 50 states and the District of Columbia
Obtaining a driver’s license under
                                              have procedures that may detect counterfeit documents. For example, all states
another’s identity can enable criminals
to commit various crimes. The 9/11            are now verifying key personal information, such as Social Security numbers
terrorists, for example, possessed            (SSN) through online queries to a Social Security Administration (SSA) database,
fraudulent licenses. The REAL ID Act          a significant increase from about a decade ago. This effort helps ensure that the
sets minimum standards for states             identity information presented belongs to a valid identity and also is not
when verifying license applicants’            associated with a deceased person. Additionally, most states verify non-citizen
identity, which go into effect in January     applicants’ immigration documents with the Department of Homeland Security
2013. If states do not meet these             (DHS) to ensure these individuals have lawful status in the United States. Many
requirements, their licenses will not be      states are also using facial recognition techniques to better detect attempts to
accepted for official purposes such as        obtain a license under another’s identity. While most states have taken steps
boarding commercial aircraft. DHS is          required by the REAL ID Act of 2005 (Act), officials in some states indicated that
responsible for establishing how states       they may not comply with certain provisions—such as re-verifying SSNs for
may certify compliance and for                license renewals—because of state laws or concerns that these requirements
determining compliance. SSA helps             are unnecessary and burdensome.
states verify SSNs. GAO was asked to
examine (1) states’ identity verification     State officials interviewed by GAO report that identity verification procedures
procedures for license applicants, (2)        have been effective at combating certain kinds of fraud, but vulnerabilities
the procedures’ effectiveness in              remain. Officials in most of the 11 states GAO contacted reported a decline in the
addressing fraud, and (3) how federal         use of counterfeit identity documents, and officials in states using facial
agencies have helped states enhance           recognition said they detected a number of identity theft attempts. However,
procedures. GAO analyzed DHS and              criminals can still steal the identity of someone in one state and use it to get a
SSA data on states’ use of verification       license in another because states lack the capacity to consistently detect such
systems; interviewed officials from           cross-state fraud. A system for addressing such fraud would enable states to
DHS, SSA, and other organizations;            comply with the Act’s prohibition against issuing licenses to individuals who
and conducted on-site or phone                already have a license from another state, but may not be fully operational until
interviews with licensing agency              2023. Furthermore, officials in many states said they have difficulties detecting
officials in 11 states. GAO tested state      forged birth certificates. Verifying date of birth is also required by the Act, and a
procedures in three states that have
                                              system exists for doing so, but no licensing agencies are using it because of
known vulnerabilities; results from
                                              concerns about incomplete data, among other reasons. Partly because these two
these states are not generalizable.
                                              systems are not fully operational, GAO investigators were able to use counterfeit
                                              out-of-state drivers’ licenses and birth certificates to fraudulently obtain licenses
                                              in three states.
What GAO Recommends
                                              By improving their respective verification systems, SSA and DHS have helped
GAO recommends that DHS work with             states enhance their identity verification procedures. For example, SSA has
partners to take interim actions to help
                                              established timeliness goals for responding to state SSN queries and DHS has
states address cross-state and birth
                                              addressed data accuracy issues. DHS has also provided funding for states to
certificate fraud. DHS did not concur
with these recommendations, saying            develop new systems. However, DHS has not always provided timely,
its ongoing efforts are sufficient. GAO       comprehensive, or proactive guidance to help states implement provisions of the
has demonstrated that vulnerabilities         Act related to identity verification. For example, DHS did not issue formal, written
remain as long as national systems are        guidance in this area for more than 4 years after issuing final regulations, even
not yet fully operational. Therefore,         though officials from most states GAO interviewed said they needed such
GAO continues to believe additional           guidance. Additionally, even though relevant national systems are not yet fully
DHS actions are needed.                       operational, DHS has no plans to promote certain alternatives states can use to
                                              comply with the Act’s identity verification requirements and combat cross-state
                                              and birth certificate fraud. Officials in some states indicated they needed direction
                                              from DHS in this area.
View GAO-12-893. For more information,
contact Daniel Bertoni at (202) 512-7215 or
                                                                                       United States Government Accountability Office

Letter                                                                                                1
                       Background                                                                     3
                       States Have Taken Steps to Detect Counterfeit Documents and
                         Identity Theft, Including Many Required by the REAL ID Act                   6
                       States Report Success in Preventing License Fraud but Cross-State
                         Fraud and Counterfeit Birth Certificates Remain Challenges                 15
                       SSA and DHS Have Enhanced Verification Systems but DHS Has
                         Not Provided Adequate Guidance on REAL ID Implementation                   25
                       Conclusions                                                                  31
                       Recommendations for Executive Action                                         32
                       Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                           32

Appendix I             Comments from the Department of Homeland Security                            35

Appendix II            Comments from the Social Security Administration                             38

Appendix III           GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                        40

Related GAO Products                                                                                41

                       Table 1: Overview of State Licensing Agencies’ Identity Verification
                                Techniques                                                            7

                       Figure1: SAVE Initial Verification Rates, Fiscal Year 2011                   10
                       Figure 2: Identity Verification Process in One State                         14
                       Figure 3: Counterfeit Birth Certificates Used by GAO Investigative
                                Staff                                                               23
                       Figure 4: REAL ID Demonstration Grant and DLSGP Funds
                                Distributed to States and Territories, Fiscal Years 2008 –
                                2011                                                                28

                       Page i                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security

AAMVA             American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
DHS               Department of Homeland Security
DLSGP             Driver’s License Security Grant Program
EVVE              Electronic Verification of Vital Events
FTC               Federal Trade Commission
HHS               Department of Health and Human Services
IRTPA             Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004
NAPHSIS           National Association for Public Health Statistics and
                  Information Systems
NIST              National Institute of Standards and Technology
PDPS              Problem Driver Pointer System
SAVE              Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements
SSA               Social Security Administration
SSN               Social Security number
SSOLV             Social Security Online Verification
VLS               Verification of Lawful Status

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Page ii                                               GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548

                                   September 21, 2012

                                   The Honorable Sam Johnson, Chairman
                                   Subcommittee on Social Security
                                   Committee on Ways and Means
                                   House of Representatives

                                   The Honorable Candice S. Miller, Chairman
                                   Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security
                                   Committee on Homeland Security
                                   House of Representatives

                                   Driver’s license fraud is a crime that can have significant financial and
                                   domestic security consequences. Because drivers’ licenses have become
                                   a widely accepted form of identification, identity thieves may try to obtain
                                   a license under someone else’s name—with forged or stolen Social
                                   Security cards or other documents—and use it to commit financial fraud.
                                   By one estimate, in 2010 over 8 million Americans were victims of identity
                                   theft and such crimes cost victims a total of $37 billion. 1 Individuals may
                                   also try to obtain licenses for other criminal purposes; for example, some
                                   of the 9/11 terrorists obtained licenses fraudulently. In 2005, after the
                                   National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
                                   recommended enhanced security for licenses, Congress passed the
                                   REAL ID Act of 2005 (REAL ID Act or Act), which, among other
                                   provisions, sets minimum national standards for driver’s license security
                                   including procedures for states to follow when verifying the identity of
                                   license applicants. 2 States have until January 2013 to comply with the
                                   Act’s requirements. While states are not required to comply, if they
                                   choose not to, the licenses they issue will no longer be accepted for
                                   official purposes as defined in the Act, such as boarding commercial

                                   We were asked to review the current status of states’ identity verification
                                   procedures when issuing drivers’ licenses, such as those related to Social

                                    Congressional Research Service, Identity Theft: Trends and Issues, R40599
                                   (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 14, 2011).
                                    Pub. L. No. 109-13, div. B, 199 Stat. 231, 302. Title II of the REAL ID Act addresses
                                   driver’s license security and is codified at 49 U.S.C. § 30301 note.

                                   Page 1                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Security number (SSN) verification. Specifically, we address: (1) what
procedures states have in place to verify the identity of driver’s license
applicants, (2) how effective these procedures have been in addressing
license application fraud and what vulnerabilities remain, and (3) what
actions federal agencies have taken to help states enhance their identity
verification procedures. In addressing these objectives, we focused solely
on procedures for verifying license applicants’ identity and did not review
other aspects of driver’s license security that are addressed by Title II of
the REAL ID Act. We reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations,
selected state laws, and previous studies. We interviewed officials from
two federal agencies that have a role in helping states implement the Act:
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security
Administration (SSA). We collected and analyzed national data from SSA
and DHS on states’ use of verification systems, and performed a data
reliability assessment—including a review of related documentation and
interviews with agency officials—that determined the data were
sufficiently reliable for reporting the number of states using these systems
and the verification rates they obtained. We also interviewed officials from
a number of other organizations, including the American Association of
Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), which represents and provides
guidance to state licensing agencies; the National Association for Public
Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), which represents
the vital records agencies that issue birth certificates; the Coalition for a
Secure Driver’s License; the Center for Immigration Studies; and the
National Governors Association. To gain a more in-depth perspective on
identity verification procedures and their impact at the state level, we
conducted site visits to three states (Iowa, New York, and Texas). During
the site visits, we interviewed officials at the state licensing agency
headquarters and local license issuance branches, including investigative
staff. We also conducted phone interviews with driver licensing agencies
in eight additional states (California, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, New
Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington). In three of our states
we also interviewed officials with vital records agencies, which issue birth
certificates. We judgmentally selected states based on factors including
geographical dispersion, population, and use of particular identity
verification procedures. While our review of procedures in these 11 states
cannot be generalized to all states, in 2010 these states represented
almost half of the U.S. population. Finally, our investigative staff tested
identity verification procedures by attempting to obtain licenses under
fictitious identities in three states. We chose states with certain identified
vulnerabilities in their procedures. The results from these three states
cannot be generalized to others.

Page 2                                        GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
             We conducted this performance audit from September 2011 through
             September 2012 in accordance with generally accepted government
             auditing standards. These standards require that we plan and perform the
             audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable
             basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We
             believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our
             findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We performed
             our related investigative work in accordance with standards prescribed by
             the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

             Drivers’ licenses have become widely accepted as an identity document
Background   because they generally contain identifying information such as the
             licensee’s name, photograph, physical description, and signature and
             may include features that make them more difficult to counterfeit or alter.
             As of 2010, about 210 million drivers were licensed in the United States. 3
             Due to the crucial role of the driver’s license as an identity document,
             individuals may try to fraudulently obtain them for a wide range of
             purposes. For example, some may try to get a license in someone else’s
             name to commit financial fraud, such as stealing government benefits,
             opening bank or credit card accounts, and writing counterfeit checks.
             Criminals may also obtain multiple licenses under different identities so
             they can commit criminal acts and, if apprehended, avoid having charges
             associated with their true identity. Illegal aliens may use a counterfeit
             license to live in the United States.

             The prevalence of driver’s license fraud in the United States is difficult to
             fully determine or quantify. The Federal Bureau of Investigation collects
             data from all states on a number of different categories of crimes through
             its Uniform Crime Reporting program, but this program does not have a
             category specifically for driver’s license fraud. Estimates are, however,
             available from a few sources. For example, in 2010 the Federal Trade
             Commission (FTC) reported that complaints involving the issuance or
             forging of drivers’ licenses accounted for 0.9 percent of the approximately
             251,000 identity theft complaints it received overall (about 2,300

              Identification cards are issued for the sole purpose of identifying the owner and generally
             contain the same information as drivers’ licenses but lack information authorizing the
             owner to drive. According to AAMVA, nationwide data are not readily available on the
             number of identification cards issued by states, as states do not consistently track this

             Page 3                                                 GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
complaints). Some evidence suggests, though, that many identity theft
cases go unreported and thus the total number of identity theft cases may
be substantially higher than the FTC figure. In addition, the Center for
Identity Management and Information Protection analyzed 517 identity
theft cases investigated by the U.S. Secret Service between 2000 and
2006, and found that counterfeit drivers’ licenses were used in 35 percent
of these cases.

Verifying license applicants’ identity and preventing fraud has traditionally
been a state responsibility, but after the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, there was an increased federal interest in driver’s license issuance
and security, as evidenced by the passage of the REAL ID Act of 2005.
States are not mandated to comply with the Act; however, the Act
establishes specific procedures states must follow when issuing drivers’
licenses in order for those licenses to be accepted by federal agencies for
“official purposes,” including, but not limited to, boarding commercial
aircraft, entering federal buildings, and entering nuclear power plants. 4, 5
As of July 2012, 17 states had enacted laws expressly opposing
implementation or prohibiting the relevant state agencies from complying
with the REAL ID Act. 6 Under the REAL ID Act, DHS has primary
responsibility for establishing how and when states can certify their
compliance and determining whether states are compliant. DHS issued
regulations in 2008 that provided details on how it would determine
whether states were REAL ID-compliant. 7 Although the Act set a May 11,
2008, deadline for compliance, DHS’ regulations allowed states to
request an extension of the full compliance deadline to May 11, 2011, and

49 U.S.C. § 30301 note. These requirements also apply to identification cards.
 The provisions of Title II of the REAL ID Act apply to the 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and any U.S. territory or possession.
 These states are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota,
Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,
Utah, Virginia, and Washington. This list does not include states that may have passed
legislative resolutions. According to an official from the National Conference of State
Legislatures, many of these state laws are broadly written, and although they may prevent
the state from becoming certified as REAL ID compliant, they do not necessarily bar
states from complying with specific provisions of the REAL ID Act.
73 Fed. Reg. 5272 (Jan. 29, 2008), codified as amended at 6 C.F.R. §§ 37.1 – 37.73.

Page 4                                                   GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
the agency later pushed the date back to January 15, 2013. 8 If states are
interested in complying with the Act, they must submit documentation no
later than 90 days before this deadline (around October 15, 2012).
Initially, after the January deadline, individuals with licenses from states
determined to be compliant may continue to use their licenses for official
purposes, regardless of when these licenses were issued, according to
DHS. However, by December 1, 2014, certain individuals—those born
after December 1, 1964—must be issued new, REAL ID-compliant
licenses by states that have been determined to be compliant in order to
use their licenses for official purposes. By December 1, 2017, all license
holders must be issued new, REAL ID-compliant licenses in order to use
them for official purposes. 9

The REAL ID Act sets minimum standards for several aspects of the
license and identification card issuance process. 10 In the area of identity
verification, the Act establishes the following requirements, among others,
for states seeking compliance:

•    Documentation: States must require license applicants to provide
     documentation of their name, date of birth, SSN, address of principal
     residence, and lawful status in the United States; 11

 DHS extended this deadline using its authority under section 205(b) of the Act to grant
extensions to states. 73 Fed. Reg. 5272 (Jan. 29, 2008), 76 Fed. Reg. 12,269 (March 7,
6 C.F.R. §§ 37.5, 37.51(a).
   In addition to identity verification requirements, Title II of the REAL ID Act also
establishes requirements for other areas of the license issuance process. For example, it
specifies the minimum information that must be displayed on licenses and requires that
licenses include physical security features designed to prevent counterfeiting. Also, it
requires states to ensure the physical security of the locations where licenses are
produced and requires that anyone involved in the manufacturing of licenses be subject to
an appropriate security clearance process.
  As defined in the REAL ID Act, individuals who have lawful status in the United States
include, for example, U.S. citizens and nationals, aliens lawfully admitted for permanent or
temporary residence, individuals with an approved or pending application for asylum or
who entered the United States as refugees, and individuals with a valid nonimmigrant
status. Certain individuals, such as those with nonimmigrant status or pending
applications for asylum, may only be issued temporary licenses for periods no longer than
their authorized stays in the country, or if there is no definite end to the period of
authorized stay, a period of 1 year.

Page 5                                                 GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                       •    Verification: Requires states to verify with the issuing agency the
                            issuance, validity, and completeness of the documents presented as
                            proof of name, date of birth, SSN (or verify the applicant’s ineligibility
                            for an SSN), address, and lawful status, with specific requirements to
                            confirm SSNs with SSA and verify lawful status of non-citizens
                            through an electronic DHS system; 12
                       •    Image capture: Requires states to capture and store digital images of
                            all documents presented by license applicants to establish identity,
                            such as passports and birth certificates, and capture the facial images
                            of all applicants;
                       •    Renewals: Requires states to establish an effective procedure for
                            confirming or verifying the information provided by individuals seeking
                            to renew their licenses;
                       •    One driver, one license: Requires states to refuse to issue a license
                            to an applicant who already holds a license from another state,
                            without confirming that this other license has been or is in the process
                            of being terminated; and
                       •    Staff training: States must establish training programs on
                            recognizing fraudulent documents for appropriate employees involved
                            in issuing licenses.

                       State driver licensing agencies use a combination of different techniques
States Have Taken      to verify the identity of license applicants and prevent fraud. These
Steps to Detect        various procedures are used together to detect license fraud and no
                       single technique is sufficient, according to officials at several licensing
Counterfeit            agencies. All states have in place some procedures to detect counterfeit
Documents and          documents, which may include electronic systems to verify data
Identity Theft,        contained on documents—such as the Social Security card—or visual
                       inspection of documents. Many states also use other techniques to detect
Including Many         fraud, including facial recognition, cross-state checks, or internal controls
Required by the REAL   for licensing transactions. (See table 1.)

ID Act

                        If a license applicant’s SSN is already registered or associated with another individual
                       who has already been issued a driver’s license by any state, then this discrepancy must
                       be resolved and appropriate action taken.

                       Page 6                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Table 1: Overview of State Licensing Agencies’ Identity Verification Techniques

Technique                                  Purpose                                                           Number of states using
Social Security Online Verification (SSOLV) Ensure license applicant’s SSN and other                         50 plus District of Columbia
                                            information is associated with a real
                                            person, not a fictitious identity or the
                                            identity of a deceased person
Systematic Alien Verification for          Ensure non-citizen applicant has lawful                           42 plus District of Columbia have
Entitlements (SAVE)                        status in the United States                                       agreements with DHS to use
Document inspection                        Ensure applicant’s identity documents are                         11 of 11 interviewed
                                           not forgeries
Facial recognition and other biometric     Ensure applicant does not obtain a license 41 plus District of Columbia
techniques                                 by using the identity of another individual
                                           and has not previously obtained licenses
                                           using a different identity or identities
Cross-state photo-sharing                  If an out-of-state license is presented,                          23 plus District of Columbia
                                           ensure it is authentic and belongs to
                                           applicant who presents it
Internal control procedures                Prevent fraud by licensing agency                                 11 of 11 interviewed
                                          Source: GAO analysis of data from SSA, DHS, and AAMVA, as well as interviews with state officials.

Electronic Verification Systems           All states plus the District of Columbia are now using Social Security
                                          Online Verification (SSOLV) to verify license applicants’ SSNs and other
                                          personal data, consistent with the REAL ID Act’s requirement to confirm
                                          SSNs with SSA. The number of states verifying SSNs with SSA has
                                          increased substantially since 2003, when we reported that 25 states were
                                          doing so. 13 Even states with laws opposing implementation of the REAL
                                          ID Act are checking SSNs through SSOLV. Use of SSOLV allows states
                                          to verify that the SSN provided by a license applicant is valid. In other
                                          words, SSOLV allows states to check whether (1) someone has been
                                          issued this SSN, (2) the SSN matches the name and date of birth
                                          provided by the applicant, and (3) the SSN is associated with a deceased

                                            See GAO, Social Security Numbers: Improved SSN Verification and Exchange of States’
                                          Driver Records Would Enhance Identity Verification, GAO-03-920 (Washington, D.C.:
                                          September 15, 2003). We reported that 25 states used either the online method—now
                                          known as SSOLV—or a separate batch method of verifying SSNs. The online method
                                          enables states to submit online requests to verify individual SSNs, with SSA providing
                                          immediate responses. In the batch approach, states submit an aggregate group of SSNs
                                          for verification and typically receive a response from SSA within 1 – 2 days. According to
                                          SSA, licensing agencies in three states continue to use the batch method for verifying
                                          some SSNs while also using SSOLV.

                                          Page 7                                                                        GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
individual. Officials in most of the states we interviewed said they never or
rarely issue a permanent driver’s license before obtaining a verification of
the applicant’s personal data. 14 In fiscal year 2011, the SSOLV
verification rate—that is, the percentage of SSOLV verification requests
that confirmed the validity of the personal data submitted—was 93
percent on average nationwide, and almost all the states had rates above
85 percent. The national average is an increase from the 89 percent
average rate in fiscal year 2008, the earliest year for which data were
available. Officials in almost all of the states we interviewed said they had
no concerns about the percentage of SSOLV queries that failed to verify.
The most common reason for non-verifications nationwide in 2011 was
that the name presented by the applicant did not match the name
associated with the SSN on file with SSA. Officials in most of the states
we interviewed cited name changes as the most common reason for this.
A license applicant may have changed their name after marriage, but not
reported this change to SSA. In such cases, states may ask applicants to
resolve the issue with SSA and then return to the licensing agency so the
SSOLV query may be run again.

Most states are also using Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements
(SAVE), another REAL ID Act requirement, but officials in some of the
states we interviewed reported challenges with the system. SAVE,
operated by DHS, verifies the information in documents that non-citizen
applicants provide to prove they have lawful status in the United States.
As of 2012, licensing agencies in 42 states plus the District of Columbia
had agreements with DHS to use it. 15 However, a few states with such
agreements do not use the system consistently for each non-citizen
applicant. For example, officials in one state we interviewed said they
used SAVE only when the documents submitted by a non-citizen raised
questions, such as if they appeared tampered with or indicated a non-
citizen no longer has lawful status in the country. Officials in the five

  Some states may issue licenses without obtaining a SSOLV verification on the
applicant’s personal data. For example, officials in one state said they may do so if the
applicant provides documentation that their name was changed due to marriage. In that
case, the submitted name is correct even though it does not verify the SSN in SSOLV.
Officials in a few states said they may issue temporary licenses for use while a SSOLV
non-verification is resolved.
  In addition, driver licensing agencies in American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam,
the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico have entered into agreements with DHS to
use SAVE. According to DHS, however, because American Samoa has an independent
immigration framework it is not able to actually use SAVE to verify lawful status.

Page 8                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
states we interviewed that were not using SAVE most often cited
technological challenges, such as difficulties providing front-counter staff
in local issuance branches with routine access to the system. Officials in
all but one of these states said they plan to start using the system if these
issues are resolved.

Officials in half of the states we interviewed that were using SAVE said
they were concerned about the verification rate they obtained. When
states submit data from non-citizens’ lawful status documents, the system
searches a variety of DHS databases in an effort to verify these data. 16 If
data are not verified on the first attempt, the state may initiate a second
and then a third attempt, which entail manual checks by DHS staff and
additional costs for the state. 17 Officials in one state, for example, told us
when SAVE does not verify lawful status on the first attempt, moving on
to additional attempts requires additional efforts by staff. Officials in a few
states said they believe data entry errors and delays in updating the data
in DHS databases are common reasons that data are not verified; DHS
officials also listed these as possible factors. Among all licensing
agencies using SAVE, the verification rate for initial SAVE queries during
fiscal year 2011 varied from 45 percent to 91 percent, according to DHS
data (see fig. 1). DHS officials said it is possible that states that only
submit SAVE queries when there is a potential problem with a document
have a higher percentage of queries that do not verify on the initial

 Lawful status documents include, for example, a Permanent Resident Card.
  States are charged $0.50 for an initial or second SAVE verification request, and up to $2
for third requests.

Page 9                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Figure1: SAVE Initial Verification Rates, Fiscal Year 2011

                                          Note: Does not include data on queries submitted by the agency that issues non-driver identification
                                          cards in Hawaii.

Document Inspection                       Another fraud prevention technique is inspection of identity documents by
                                          front-counter staff. In all the states we contacted, front-counter staff in
                                          local licensing offices inspects identity documents in an effort to detect
                                          counterfeits. This step is often done even for documents that are also
                                          verified electronically, such as SSN documents. Inspection generally
                                          involves the visual or physical examination of documents. Staff told us
                                          they look for security features embedded in authentic documents, such as
                                          watermarks and proper coloring in Social Security cards or raised seals
                                          on birth certificates. They may check if documents are printed on security
                                          paper that is used for authentic documents, and also to see if a document
                                          appears to have been tampered with. Staff may use a variety of tools to
                                          assist with their inspection. For example, they may use black lights and
                                          magnifying glasses. For certain types of documents, such as out-of-state
                                          drivers’ licenses, they may consult books showing the most current
                                          versions of these documents. Staff in about half of the states we
                                          interviewed also used document authentication machines designed to
                                          detect counterfeit documents such as out-of-state licenses and passports.
                                          Officials in one of these states explained that front-counter staff scans
                                          certain types of documents into the machines, and the machines indicate
                                          if the document is authentic. Finally, training also plays a role in helping

                                          Page 10                                                     GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                               staff inspect documents. Officials in all the licensing agencies we
                               contacted said they have provided fraudulent document recognition
                               training to their staff, which is also required by the REAL ID Act; most said
                               that 100 percent of their staff have received such training. Even officials in
                               states we contacted that have laws prohibiting implementation of the
                               REAL ID Act said they have taken this step.

Facial Recognition and Other   Many states are using facial recognition techniques or fingerprinting
Biometric Techniques           which, while not required by the REAL ID Act, may detect applicants who
                               attempt to obtain a license under an identity other than their own.
                               According to AAMVA, licensing agencies in 41 states plus the District of
                               Columbia were using facial recognition, fingerprinting, or both techniques
                               as of June 2012. 18 Among the 11 states in our review, 5 routinely used
                               biometric techniques as part of their verification procedures (4 used facial
                               recognition and 1 used fingerprinting) and an additional 4 had plans to
                               implement facial recognition procedures. Licensing agency officials in the
                               remaining 2 states said they are barred by state law from using facial
                               recognition to screen license applicants.

                               Facial recognition software analyzes an individual’s photo and measures
                               various aspects of the face, which may include the distance between
                               different features such as the eyes, nose, and mouth. The unique set of
                               measurements representing one facial image is compared to the
                               measurements representing others, to detect images that are potentially
                               associated with the same person. The states we interviewed that use
                               facial recognition check each new license applicant’s photo against all
                               other photos of current license holders in their own state. 19 This check
                               may detect applicants who try to obtain multiple licenses in the same
                               state under different identities. These states may also compare the photo
                               of an individual renewing a license to the photo on file for that license, to
                               verify that both photos are of the same person. In the states we
                               interviewed, facial recognition checks are typically run after the applicant
                               leaves the local branch office but before a permanent license is mailed to

                                AAMVA reported that licensing agencies in 40 states plus the District of Columbia were
                               using facial recognition, 9 states were using fingerprinting, and 8 of these 9 were also
                               among those using facial recognition.
                                 State licensing agencies generally perform facial recognition checks only against their
                               own photo databases, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology
                               (NIST) which conducts studies on facial recognition.

                               Page 11                                               GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                              an applicant. 20 These checks are not necessarily a purely automated
                              function, and staff may need time to review images that are potential
                              matches to determine if they really are of the same individual.

Additional Fraud Prevention   While states’ facial recognition programs are focused on detecting in-
Techniques                    state license fraud, states also have some procedures in place that may
                              detect cross-state fraud. As of March 2012, 23 states and the District of
                              Columbia were participating in a photo-sharing program facilitated by
                              AAMVA that is designed to help detect fraud across state lines. This
                              program allows a participating state to obtain the facial image associated
                              with a surrendered license from the issuing state if that state also
                              participates in the program. Through this process, a fraudulent license
                              could be detected if a state query yields either no photo or a photo that
                              does not match the applicant. In addition, state licensing agencies may
                              detect cross-state fraud through other systems. For example, all states
                              plus the District of Columbia participate in the Problem Driver Pointer
                              System (PDPS), to check if license applicants have adverse driving
                              records. 21 But by uncovering driving violations or other adverse licensing
                              actions in other states, PDPS may also help states identify applicants
                              who already have licenses in other states that they have not divulged.
                              Also, a few state licensing agencies said they may use the National Law
                              Enforcement Telecommunications System to check if a license applicant
                              already has a license in another state. This system is generally only
                              available to law enforcement personnel, not to all front-line staff in license
                              issuance offices. Officials in one state told us they use it only in limited
                              circumstances, such as when there is reason to suspect license fraud.

                              In addition to the variety of procedures states have in place to prevent
                              fraud by license applicants, all the licensing agencies we interviewed
                              have some internal control procedures that are intended to prevent fraud
                              by their employees and ensure required procedures are followed. For

                                 Almost all of the states we interviewed issue some or all of their licenses or identification
                              cards by mail from a central location. These states may provide applicants with temporary
                              licenses at the front counter.
                                The PDPS searches the National Driver Register, a database of state-provided driver
                              information maintained by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic
                              Safety Administration, and if an individual is identified as having an adverse record, the
                              PDPS “points” to the state where the individual’s record may be obtained. A PDPS check
                              is typically used to detect certain serious traffic violations or license suspensions or
                              revocations associated with an applicant in other states, which might make the applicant
                              ineligible to receive a license in a new state.

                              Page 12                                                  GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                             example, officials in almost all the states we interviewed said front-line
                             staff may not override a non-match in an electronic verification system
                             such as SSOLV in order to issue a license. Additionally, officials in most
                             states told us managers examine licensing transactions to ensure proper
                             procedures were followed. For example, officials in one state told us an
                             audit team checks to make sure all required identity documents were
                             collected as part of the transaction. Other procedures that states employ
                             include monitoring licensing transactions to identify anomalies that may
                             indicate internal fraud, such as the issuance of multiple duplicate licenses
                             to the same individual; rotating staff among different stations so they do
                             not know where they will be working on any particular day; and randomly
                             assigning license applicants to the employee who will serve them, to
                             avoid collusion.

Identity Verification: One   Figure 2 illustrates how the various systems and efforts work together to
State’s Process              detect and prevent driver’s license fraud in one of the states we reviewed.
                             This state’s process includes a number of the different types of checks we
                             have described. An individual applying for a driver’s license proceeds
                             through two different stations, where several checks and other steps are
                             performed by different employees. Certain steps are performed at one
                             station only, such as taking the applicant’s photo, checking documents
                             with the authentication machine and performing the electronic
                             verifications such as SSOLV. But other steps are performed at both
                             stations, including entering data from identity documents into the licensing
                             agency’s computer system. State officials told us that having two
                             employees enter applicants’ data helps guard against internal corruption,
                             because if one employee tries to collude with an applicant to enter false
                             information, this will be caught by the other employee. If no potential fraud
                             is found through all the checks at the local branch, the applicant is issued
                             a paper license valid for 45 days. The licensing agency performs some
                             additional checks after the issuance of the temporary license, including a
                             facial recognition check against all photos in its database and verification
                             that the applicant’s mailing address is valid. If no concerns are found, the
                             state mails a permanent license to the applicant.

                             Page 13                                      GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Figure 2: Identity Verification Process in One State

                                           Although states are already implementing a number of the identity
                                           verification procedures required by the REAL ID Act, some states may not
                                           comply with certain provisions for various reasons. For example, officials
                                           in one state we interviewed said they are not verifying applicants’ lawful
                                           status through SAVE because the state does not require people to have
                                           lawful status in the United States to obtain a license. Officials said the
                                           state has no plans to enact such a requirement. In other cases, state
                                           officials told us they find certain statutory or regulatory requirements to be
                                           burdensome or unnecessary. For example, several of the states we
                                           interviewed do not verify SSNs through SSOLV when individuals renew
                                           their licenses, a step required by DHS’ regulations. 22 State officials told us
                                           it is not necessary to take this step because these SSNs were already
                                           verified at the time of initial license application; officials in one state also
                                           mentioned the cost of a SSOLV query as a reason not to re-verify an
                                           SSN. 23 DHS said one reason it is necessary to re-verify personal data
                                           such as SSNs for renewals is that such checks can detect cases where

                                            6 C.F.R. § 37.25.
                                            States must pay $0.05 for each SSOLV query.

                                           Page 14                                        GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                           the data are actually associated with a deceased individual. 24 Re-verifying
                           SSNs may therefore detect attempts to renew a license fraudulently
                           under the identity of a deceased individual. In addition, several of the
                           states we interviewed do not require applicants to provide a document
                           showing their SSN. 25 Officials in one of these states said the Social
                           Security card is easy to tamper with so it is more valuable to verify the
                           actual SSN than to assess the validity of the paper document. Officials in
                           two states said they do not plan to comply with the deadlines in DHS’
                           regulations, which will require states, after DHS has determined they are
                           REAL ID-compliant, to process new applications and issue new licenses
                           to certain license holders by 2014 and all license holders by 2017. These
                           officials cited the expected resource burden of processing so many
                           applications in a short period of time.

States Report Success
in Preventing License
Fraud but Cross-State
Fraud and Counterfeit
Birth Certificates
Remain Challenges

States Report Success in   Officials in most of the states we interviewed said their anti-fraud efforts
Detecting Counterfeit      have had success in preventing the use of counterfeit documents to
Documents and Identity     obtain licenses, especially documents associated with completely
                           fictitious identities. Indeed, officials in the majority of our 11 selected
Theft                      states said they have seen a decline in attempts to obtain licenses using
                           counterfeit documents. SSOLV makes it harder for criminals to obtain a
                           license under a fictitious identity. Officials in most of the states we
                           interviewed said SSOLV checks have helped make the use of fraudulent
                           documents more difficult. For example, officials in one state told us that
                           before it started using SSOLV, about 75 percent of license fraud cases

                            See DHS’s proposed rule, 72 Fed. Reg. 10,820, 10,838 (Mar. 9. 2007).
                             DHS regulations require applicants to present a document that shows their SSN and
                           specify which documents are acceptable. 6 C.F.R. § 37.11(e).

                           Page 15                                            GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
involved counterfeit Social Security cards, but the use of counterfeit
documents such as these has declined significantly and is no longer the
main type of fraud they see. Officials in several states also cited SAVE as
having made the use of counterfeit documents more difficult. For
example, officials in one state commented that when they started using
SAVE in 2002 they identified many forged documents intended to prove
lawful status in the United States, but over time they have seen fewer
forgeries of these documents. Officials in several states said their efforts
to train staff on fraudulent document recognition or to prevent corruption
among their staff have also had an impact. Officials in one state said the
use of counterfeit Social Security cards has declined partly because front-
line staff is better trained on how to check documents for security
features. Officials in another state told us internal control procedures,
including having two staff separately inspect each document, has made
license fraud more difficult to accomplish. Several states provided data
indicating a decline in recent years in the number of license fraud
investigations involving fraudulent documents. For example, one provided
data showing a steady decline in the annual number of investigations
based on referrals from front-counter staff, from 156 in 2002 to 36 in
2011. Officials said this trend reflects a decline in the use of counterfeit
documents, because such cases are the ones typically detected by front-
counter staff.

State officials also reported successes in using facial recognition
technology to detect license fraud, particularly fraud involving identity
theft. SSOLV has made it harder to get a license under a fictitious
identity, but it cannot determine whether a valid SSN and other personal
information (name and date of birth) submitted by a license applicant are
truly associated with that applicant. Some evidence suggests that
criminals seeking a license are now more likely to try to obtain one under
another real identity—using genuine and sometimes forged identity
documents to do so. For example, law enforcement officials in one state
said that as the number of fraud cases involving counterfeit documents
has declined, they have seen an increasing number of what they called
imposter fraud: attempts to steal another person’s complete identity—
including name, SSN, and date of birth—and obtain a license under that
identity. Officials in several states told us facial recognition plays an
important role in preventing such fraud. Officials in one state, for example,
said it is their most effective tool for detecting identity theft, and has
detected over 100 license fraud cases annually since 2008. Officials in
another state told us facial recognition has resulted in about 6,200
investigations and 1,700 arrests since its implementation in 2010.
Officials in a few states told us after they introduced facial recognition

Page 16                                      GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                              they detected individuals with a number of licenses under different
                              identities—as many as 10 different identities associated with one
                              individual in one case. However, state officials also said there are some
                              limitations in the ability of facial recognition to detect matches between
                              photos when a person’s appearance has been altered in one photo. For
                              that reason, among others, an official with NIST said facial recognition
                              may be less effective than other biometric techniques such as
                              fingerprinting and iris recognition in detecting matches.

                              Examples of How Facial Recognition Detected License Fraud
                              In one state we visited, licensing agency employees were issuing licenses to individuals
                              using real identities of other people for payments of $7,500 to $12,500 a piece. As part of
                              the scheme, these employees provided their customers with legitimate identity documents
                              belonging to other people, such as Social Security cards and birth certificates. Facial
                              recognition successfully identified that the individuals who had paid for the fraudulent
                              licenses had already received other identification documents from the state and therefore
                              had photos in the state’s database. In another example from the same state, according to
                              state officials, a foreign national who these officials identified as being on the “no-fly” list
                              had obtained licenses under four different identities. This individual had been deported
                              from the United States multiple times, and each time was able to re-enter the country
                              under a different identity. Using facial recognition software, the state was able to detect
                              him by comparing the photos associated with the different licenses.

License Fraud across State
Lines and the Use of
Counterfeit Birth
Certificates Remain
States Remain Vulnerable to   States’ vulnerability to license fraud perpetrated by individuals who cross
Cross-State License Fraud     state lines has been a longstanding issue, and it remains a challenge for
                              states despite the success officials report in detecting other kinds of
                              fraud. 26 Officials in the majority of states we interviewed told us their
                              states bar their license holders from also holding licenses in other states,
                              and the REAL ID Act also prohibits states from issuing a license to an
                              applicant who already has one in another state. However, individuals may
                              try to obtain licenses in multiple states. For example, criminals may try to

                                We reported in 2003 that states were vulnerable to cross-state fraud because they
                              lacked a means of systematically exchanging information about licensed drivers. See

                              Page 17                                                  GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
get licenses under different identities by using the identity of someone
who resides—and may have a license—in one state to obtain a license
under that identity in a different state, perhaps to commit financial fraud
under their stolen identity. Officials in all the states we interviewed
acknowledged they lack the ability to consistently determine if the identity
presented by a license applicant is already associated with a license-
holder in another state. Some existing verification systems may
accomplish this goal in limited circumstances but do not fully address the
gap. For example, officials in a number of states told us a check against
the problem driver database (Problem Driver Pointer System) will not
detect a license in another state if it is not associated with any driving
violation. Moreover, the national law enforcement data exchange system
(National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System) is cumbersome
to use if a state does not know which state an applicant may already have
a license in, and in any case is generally only available to law
enforcement personnel. Similarly, the AAMVA photo sharing program
cannot be used to detect fraud if an applicant does not present an out-of-
state license to be verified, and not all states participate. Finally, facial
recognition programs generally only check a state’s own internal photo
database. They cannot detect cases when a criminal tries to obtain a
license under the identity of someone else if neither of them have a
license in the state.

Example of Cross-State Fraud
In one state an individual obtained an identification card under the identity of a person
residing in another state by successfully using identity documents belonging to that
person. The identity thief used this identification card as authorization to work. The crime
was only discovered when the victim filed an identity theft complaint with the state in which
the criminal obtained the fraudulent identification card and had been working.

States are trying to develop additional mechanisms for addressing cross-
state license fraud, but none are fully operational yet. For example, a
consortium of five states is developing a state-to-state verification system
that would enable states to check if a license applicant’s identity—
including name, date of birth, and a portion of the SSN—is already
associated with a license in other states. Officials in almost all the states
we interviewed said such a system would be useful. Officials in several
states said it could detect criminals who try to use the identity of someone
in one state to obtain a license in another state—provided the identity
theft victim is a license holder in the first state. However, officials in a
number of states said there would be challenges to implementing such a
system, primarily related to cost and ensuring the security of personal

Page 18                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                              data. The state consortium expects to complete its design work by 2013
                              and implement a pilot by 2015, but said it may not be until 2023 that the
                              states have entered data on all their license holders into the system.
                              Beyond the planned state-to-state system, some states have considered
                              other approaches to addressing cross-state license fraud. Officials in
                              several states told us cross-state facial recognition, in which states run
                              checks against neighboring states’ photo databases, could be a helpful
                              tool. However, they cited obstacles, including the much larger number of
                              potential matches that staff would have to examine, the technological
                              incompatibility of different states’ facial recognition programs, and privacy
                              concerns. In addition, officials in one state suggested that it would be
                              helpful if SSA informed states when an SSN submitted to SSOLV for
                              verification had already been submitted previously, because this would
                              alert states that someone might be fraudulently applying for licenses in
                              multiple states. SSA officials said developing this capacity could slow
                              down SSOLV response times and raise privacy concerns because SSA
                              would need to store SSNs submitted by states. While AAMVA’s photo
                              sharing program can play a role in detecting certain kinds of cross-state
                              fraud, the program’s usefulness is limited because fewer than half the
                              states currently participate, and AAMVA told us it lacks the resources to
                              promote use of this program among additional states.

States Have Problems          Even with the progress reported in preventing the use of certain types of
Identifying Forged or         counterfeit documents, the use of forged or improperly obtained birth
Fraudulently Obtained Birth   certificates remains a challenge that leaves states vulnerable to license
Certificates                  fraud. Officials in about half the states we interviewed said it can be
                              challenging to detect counterfeit birth certificates. Officials in several
                              states told us the wide variety of formats in which birth certificates are
                              issued across the country makes detecting counterfeits difficult.
                              According to NAPHSIS, there are thousands of different versions of birth
                              certificates because formats vary over time and among issuing

                              Page 19                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
agencies. 27 An official in one local license issuance office said his office
often sees birth certificates from another state, where security features on
birth certificates vary from county to county, and it can be difficult to keep
track of all the variations. Besides forging birth certificates, criminals may
improperly obtain someone else’s genuine birth certificate. For example,
criminals may steal or purchase the documents and use them as part of
packages of identity documents to obtain licenses fraudulently. In other
cases criminals may be able to obtain another person’s birth certificate
directly from a vital records agency. According to NAPHSIS, 15 states
have virtually no restrictions on who may obtain a birth certificate from a
vital records agency. Even in states that restrict access, there may be
limited safeguards to ensure birth certificates are only provided to those
who have a legitimate right to them. For example, officials at one vital
record agency acknowledged that local staff who issue birth certificates
do not receive fraudulent document recognition training, and a criminal
with a sophisticated fake identification document such as a driver’s
license could use it to obtain someone else’s birth certificate.

Example of Using A Forged Birth Certificate to Obtain a License Fraudulently
In one state an individual obtained a victim’s personal data and applied for a license using
a counterfeit birth certificate and counterfeit SSN documentation. This fraud was only
discovered when the alleged criminal fled an accident involving a plane carrying narcotics,
and checked into a nearby motel under the false identity.

A system exists that could help address the issue of counterfeit birth
certificates and meet the REAL ID requirement to verify birth certificates
with the issuing agency when they are submitted by license applicants,
but state officials said there are challenges with using it and no states are
currently doing so for this purpose. The Electronic Verification of Vital
Events (EVVE) system is designed to verify the accuracy of data on birth

  The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) required the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue regulations setting certain
minimum standards for birth certificates for acceptance by federal agencies, and to
provide grants to assist states in conforming to the minimum standards and computerizing
birth and death records, among other things. These minimum standards must include
certain requirements specified in IRTPA, such as requiring the use of features designed to
prevent tampering or counterfeiting, requiring proof and verification of identity as a
condition of issuance, and establishing application processing standards to prevent fraud.
Pub. L. No. 108-458, § 7211, 118 Stat. 3638, 3825-27 (2004), codified at 5 U.S.C. § 301
note. According to HHS’s Semiannual Regulatory Agenda published in February 2012, the
agency estimated publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in September 2012;
however, as of September 11, 2012, HHS had not yet done so. 77 Fed. Reg. 7945, 7948
(Feb. 13, 2012).

Page 20                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
certificates including name, date of birth, and either the date the
certificate was filed or the file number. 28 It is operated by NAPHSIS, the
organization that represents the nation’s vital records agencies. As of
February 2012, 43 of 57 vital records agencies were participating in the
system, meaning at least some of their birth records could be
electronically verified. 29 Licensing agencies in three states participated in
a multi-year pilot ending in 2011, in which they used the system to verify
birth certificates for license applicants. Officials in one of the pilot states
told us that, based on their experience, EVVE has the potential to help
detect counterfeit birth certificates, because while criminals may be able
to obtain another person’s name and date of birth and create a counterfeit
birth certificate, it is more difficult to obtain the correct file date on the
victim’s birth certificate—which must match to pass an EVVE check.
However, officials in this state cited challenges they experienced during
the pilot, including confusion about which date on the birth certificate is
the file date that should be entered for verification and gaps in the state’s
vital records data which make verification difficult for birth certificates filed
during certain periods of time. Similarly, officials in most of the states we
interviewed that had not participated in the pilot said it could be helpful to
use EVVE, but also expressed concerns about the cost of using the
system, the fact that not all vital records agencies are participating, and
the completeness or accuracy of the vital records data that are already
available for verification through it. As an interim solution, some licensing
agencies are working towards verifying at least their own states’ birth
records electronically. Officials in several of the licensing agencies we
interviewed have considered or are planning to start working with the vital
records agencies in their states to electronically verify birth records for
license applicants born in-state. Officials in one licensing agency told us
they have discussed this approach with the vital records agency in their
state, and see it as an interim step before EVVE is more viable. Licensing

  Several other federal and state agencies use EVVE, including SSA and Medicaid offices
in some states.
  The 57 vital records jurisdictions that issue birth certificates are the 50 states, the District
of Columbia, New York City, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands,
Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The vital records agencies in these jurisdictions
vary widely in the extent to which they maintain birth records in electronic databases,
which is necessary for these records to be available for verification through EVVE. For
example, as of February 2012 one agency had electronic records for births back to 2004,
while some others had electronic records back to around 1900. But even some vital
records agencies with extensive electronic records were not participating in EVVE as of
February 2012.

Page 21                                                   GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                             agencies face obstacles in these efforts, though, such as birth records not
                             being fully in electronic format or the reluctance on the part of vital
                             records agencies to participate in electronic birth record verification

GAO Investigative Work       Our investigative staff exploited the vulnerabilities discussed above to
Highlights Vulnerabilities   fraudulently obtain drivers’ licenses in the three states where we made
                             such attempts. In each state, investigative staff obtained genuine licenses
                             under fictitious identities—combinations of name, date of birth, and SSN
                             that do not correspond to any real individuals. In two states, a staff
                             member obtained two licenses under two different identities. In each
                             attempt, staff visited local license issuance branches and submitted
                             various counterfeit documents to establish their identities, depending on
                             state requirements. In all cases they submitted a counterfeit driver’s
                             license and a counterfeit birth certificate, both purportedly from other
                             states. (See figure 3 below for examples of the counterfeit birth
                             certificates used.) In some cases, staff also submitted other documents
                             including fake Social Security cards and fake pay stubs. In most of these
                             five attempts across the three states, we were issued permanent or
                             temporary licenses in about 1 hour or less. In only one case did a front-
                             counter clerk appear to question the validity of one of the counterfeit
                             documents, but this clerk did not stop the issuance process. All three
                             states check the validity of applicants’ personal data—including SSN—
                             through SSOLV, but assuming SSOLV checks were performed, they were
                             not sufficient to detect these fraud attempts because the SSNs were
                             valid. 30

                               We used SSNs that are valid, in the sense that they exist in SSA’s database, but that do
                             not correspond to any real individual.

                             Page 22                                              GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Figure 3: Counterfeit Birth Certificates Used by GAO Investigative Staff

                                          Note: These birth certificates contain fictitious information, which does not correspond to any real

                                          These successful fraud attempts demonstrate several vulnerabilities in
                                          states’ defenses against license fraud. First, the fact that we were able to
                                          use counterfeit out-of-state licenses in each attempt further confirms
                                          states’ inability to consistently check if applicants’ identities are already
                                          associated with licenses in other states. If the envisioned state-to-state
                                          verification system were in place, then the states where we applied might
                                          have discovered that the out-of-state licenses we submitted were fakes
                                          and did not actually exist. Under current plans, this system would verify
                                          the validity of licenses submitted from other states as well as check if
                                          applicants have licenses from other states that they have not divulged.
                                          Even in the absence of the state-to-state system, if all states participated
                                          in AAMVA’s photo sharing program, then the counterfeit out-of-state
                                          licenses might have been detected through a request to the purported

                                          Page 23                                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
state of origin of the license to validate it. We specifically selected states
for our undercover work that are not among the 23 participating in this
program. But as long as any states are not participating, criminals could
present counterfeit licenses from these states, and even participating
states would be vulnerable. The second vulnerability relates to birth
certificates. We were likely able to use counterfeit birth certificates
containing fictitious information because no state licensing agencies are
verifying birth certificate data through EVVE. None of the front-line clerks
in the offices where we applied for licenses questioned the validity of the
counterfeit birth certificates presented. Finally, the third vulnerability is
that some states are still not using facial recognition or other biometric
techniques to detect identity theft. The fact that the two states where our
staff applied for multiple licenses are among the nine states that do not
use facial recognition technology or other biometric techniques most likely
made it easier in these states for our staff to obtain two licenses under
two different identities. Facial recognition checks may be able to detect
multiple licenses associated with the same individual. While it might still
be possible for a criminal to obtain a license fraudulently even if all states
utilized a state-to-state verification system, EVVE, and facial recognition,
use of these systems would likely have increased the chances of
detecting our fraudulent license applications.

Page 24                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
SSA and DHS Have
Enhanced Verification
Systems but DHS Has
Not Provided
Adequate Guidance

Agencies Have Improved     SSA has taken actions that enhance licensing agencies’ ability to verify
Existing Systems and       SSNs and other personal data. Specifically, the agency has addressed
Helped States Develop      two areas of concern that we raised in 2003. 31 First, to enhance the level
                           of service provided to states, SSA established performance goals,
New Verification Systems
                           including hours when SSOLV is to be available and response times.
                           Second, to address a vulnerability that might leave states open to license
                           fraud by criminals stealing the identity of a deceased individual, SSA now
                           automatically checks all inquiries against its death records.

                           DHS has similarly taken several actions to improve the usefulness of
                           SAVE. To improve data accuracy and verification rates, the agency
                           monitors verification rates in order to identify problems with data accuracy
                           in the databases SAVE accesses, which contribute to unsuccessful initial
                           verification attempts. Officials in several of the states we interviewed
                           acknowledged that DHS has been taking steps to improve verification
                           rates, the timeliness of query responses, and the accuracy of underlying
                           data, and these officials reported improvements in these areas. In
                           addition, DHS has recently developed a new portal for accessing and
                           using SAVE. Known as the Verification of Lawful Status (VLS) system, it
                           will be accessible through AAMVA’s electronic hub for accessing other
                           verification systems such as SSOLV. DHS is pilot testing VLS, with roll
                           out to all states planned by the end of fiscal year 2012. Officials in several
                           states told us they believe this new approach will make it easier for them
                           to use SAVE more consistently or extensively. Officials in two states, in

                             We reported that SSOLV was often overwhelmed by the number of verification requests,
                           that it experienced frequent outages, and that SSA had not sufficiently focused on
                           management of the system. In addition, SSA did not check whether SSNs submitted
                           through the batch method were associated with deceased individuals. See GAO-03-920.

                           Page 25                                            GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
fact, said the deployment of VLS would enable them to start using the
system in the future. DHS has conducted webinars for licensing agency
staff on using SAVE, and it is developing online training modules that
DHS officials say will also include instruction on interpreting verification

Beyond these efforts to improve existing verification systems, DHS has
provided financial assistance to support states’ efforts to develop new
verification systems that could be used to comply with the REAL ID Act.
Section 204 of the REAL ID Act authorizes grants to assist states in
conforming to the minimum standards in the Act. DHS has awarded about
$63 million through various grants since 2008 for upgrading the
communications and verification systems infrastructure including
development of the state-to-state system and pilot testing other systems.
All of these funds were awarded to a group of five states that were part of
a consortium that was formed for this purpose. At least half of the $63
million is being used by the consortium for the development and
implementation of the state-to-state system, and these funds are
available through fiscal year 2016. DHS officials said these funds are
designed in part to induce states to start using the system, but in the
longer term, the agency expects states to pay for the operation of the
system. Besides funding support, DHS has also provided technical advice
to help the states understand the federal requirements the system must
meet. In addition to the funds set aside for the state-to-state system,
some of the grants were also used to support a pilot project in which
licensing agencies verified birth certificates through EVVE. 32 However,
based on a recommendation from the consortium, DHS does not plan to
provide any additional financial support to state licensing agencies for
further pilot testing of EVVE because of high transaction costs charged by
state vital records agencies. DHS officials are also concerned about
inaccuracies in electronic birth records that may lead to non-verifications,
and the fact that EVVE checks may still be evaded by people who obtain
someone else’s birth certificate in one of the states where birth records
are accessible to the general public. 33

  Besides the state-to-state system and EVVE, the state consortium has also been
involved in piloting some other systems.
   As a means of addressing this problem, DHS officials told us the agency is exploring
testing a system in which state vital records offices would verify the driver’s license or
identification cards of persons who request copies of their birth certificate.

Page 26                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
DHS has also provided grants to individual states to help them improve
their driver’s license security procedures, including identity verification.
The Driver’s License Security Grant Program (DLSGP) provided over
$200 million in grants to states and territories from fiscal years 2008 to
2011. 34 All but 2 states applied for and received grant funds during this
time period (see fig. 4). 35 Initially established as the REAL ID
Demonstration Grant program, the DLSGP provides assistance to states
for improving the security and integrity of their drivers’ licenses in ways
that are consistent with the requirements of the REAL ID Act. Both states
with and without laws opposing implementation of the REAL ID Act were
eligible to apply for and received these grants. Funds could be used for
planning activities, equipment purchases, equipment maintenance and
repair, and related costs. Officials in states we interviewed said they used
their funds for efforts such as installing or updating facial recognition
systems, providing staff anti-fraud training and information sharing, and in
one case supporting efforts by the state’s vital records agency to digitize
its birth records.

  No DLSGP grants were awarded in fiscal year 2012 because the funding for those
purposes was consolidated with that of several other programs into another program
called the State Homeland Security Grant Program.
  Under the fiscal year 2011 allocation formula, each state or territory received a base
amount with the balance based upon the number of licenses and identification cards

Page 27                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Figure 4: REAL ID Demonstration Grant and Driver’s License Security Grant Program (DLSGP) Funds Distributed to States
and Territories, Fiscal Years 2008 – 2011

                                        Note: Montana and Oklahoma did not apply for grants during this time.

                                        DHS has conducted other activities that may help combat license fraud
                                        generally, and officials in several of the states we interviewed told us they
                                        were participating in these efforts. However, these efforts are broad in

                                        Page 28                                                    GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                           nature and are not specifically designed to support compliance with the
                           REAL ID Act. For example, DHS operates a forensic laboratory that
                           investigates the use of counterfeit identity documents and is a resource
                           available to driver licensing agencies. DHS also leads task forces
                           involving federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that are
                           designed to combat identity document fraud, including driver’s license
                           fraud. These task forces seek to pursue criminal prosecutions and
                           financial seizures.

DHS Has Not Provided       Despite the approaching January 2013 deadline for compliance, DHS has
Comprehensive Guidance     not provided timely, comprehensive, or proactive guidance on how states
to Help States Implement   seeking REAL ID compliance could meet the identity verification
                           requirements. For example, DHS did not issue written guidance on how to
the REAL ID Act            meet specific REAL ID Act identity verification requirements for over 4
                           years after it issued its final regulations in 2008. 36 Officials in most of the
                           states we interviewed expressed a need for additional guidance on how
                           they could meet the identity verification requirements of the REAL ID Act
                           and DHS regulations. Because of this lack of guidance, officials in these
                           states said they are uncertain as to whether they will be in compliance
                           with various provisions when the law goes into effect, and some are
                           concerned about investing resources in particular steps only to find out
                           afterwards that they are not in compliance. For example, officials in one
                           state said there was a lack of clarity about whether military identification
                           cards may be used to prove identity under the REAL ID Act. In the
                           absence of formal written guidance, they have often had to make
                           assumptions based in part on DHS officials’ informal remarks.

                           The guidance DHS has provided regarding verification of license
                           applicants’ identities has generally been ad hoc or in response to state
                           requests. For example, DHS provided additional information to states in
                           June 2012 in the form of answers to frequently asked questions posted to
                           its website. 37 Moreover, agency officials previously indicated that DHS
                           was planning to issue a comprehensive guidance document specifying

                             DHS issued guidance in 2009 on implementing REAL ID Act requirements other than
                           those for license applicant identity verification. These include REAL ID Mark Guidelines,
                           and the REAL ID Security Plan Guidance Handbook which primarily address license
                           document security features and security requirements for licensing facilities respectively.
                            See http://www.dhs.gov/files/programs/secure-drivers-licenses.shtm.

                           Page 29                                                GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
actions states could take to meet REAL ID Act requirements and what
states should cover in the certification plans they submit to DHS for
approval. However, DHS officials said they are now reevaluating that
decision. Agency officials said DHS will continue to provide additional
guidance as needed through the frequently asked questions web page,
presentations at conferences of state licensing agency officials, or
responses to specific questions from individual states. However, state
officials reported mixed experiences with how DHS has responded to
their specific questions. On the one hand, officials in several states said
DHS has been responsive to questions they had on meeting particular
REAL ID Act requirements. For example, officials in one state said DHS
has for the most part responded relatively quickly to e-mail inquiries. On
the other hand, however, officials in some states cited instances in which
DHS has not responded promptly, or at all, to their questions. For
example, officials in one state told us they had not received a response to
a question they first asked DHS in 2009 about whether enhanced drivers’
licenses would meet REAL ID Act requirements. 38 Officials in another
state told us it took longer than they expected for DHS to respond to a
question about whether refugees and asylum seekers should be treated
as permanent U.S. residents when they apply for a license.

DHS guidance is especially critical for two key REAL ID Act
requirements—not issuing licenses to persons who already have them
from other states and verifying birth certificates—given that the electronic
verification systems designed for those purposes will not be fully
operational for years, and the approaching deadline for states to submit
their compliance plans. DHS regulations require states to use electronic
verification systems as they become available, but also authorize states
to use alternative methods approved by DHS. 39 However, in addition to
not providing comprehensive guidance specifying what alternative
procedures would be acceptable for compliance with these requirements,
DHS officials also indicated they have no plans to promote certain
strategies they consider potentially useful that might partially help states
meet these requirements, such as: (1) expansion of the AAMVA photo

  Enhanced drivers’ licenses are augmented with additional security features and
approved by DHS for use as proof of identity and U.S. citizenship in place of a passport
for entry into the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the
Caribbean. In its June 2012 frequently asked questions, DHS stated that enhanced
drivers’ licenses are acceptable for official federal purposes.
 6 C.F.R. § 37.13(b).

Page 30                                               GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
              sharing program to additional states, and (2) expansion of licensing
              agencies’ efforts to verify birth certificates through their own states’ birth
              records for applicants born in-state. Instead, DHS plans to consider
              alternatives states propose in their compliance plans. DHS officials said
              they believe this approach gives states opportunities to develop
              innovative solutions and flexibility to consider their own circumstances.
              However, officials in some states we interviewed expressed a need for
              direction from DHS to help identify possible alternatives. Officials in one
              state we interviewed, for example, wanted assistance in identifying what
              procedures could be followed to meet these requirements until the state-
              to-state verification system and EVVE are fully operational. Officials in
              another state told us that in their view, DHS would need to provide
              additional options for meeting these requirements in order for DHS to
              determine states are compliant by January 2013.

              Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, states have largely
Conclusions   closed off certain approaches that identity thieves and terrorists have
              used to fraudulently obtain drivers’ licenses, and federal actions have
              contributed to this progress by enhancing verification systems or by
              providing financial support to help states develop new systems. But, as
              our investigative work demonstrates, it is still possible to exploit several
              remaining vulnerabilities in states’ identity verification procedures to
              fraudulently obtain genuine drivers’ licenses, contrary to the purpose of
              the REAL ID Act. DHS has provided some guidance about certain
              aspects of REAL ID implementation primarily in response to state
              questions. However, the lack of proactive guidance by DHS on interim
              solutions for certain REAL ID Act requirements has hampered states’
              ability to fully address these gaps. For example, even though the state-to-
              state system is still years from fruition, there are opportunities before the
              system’s expected completion date of 2023 for states to at least partially
              address the REAL ID requirement to prevent people from getting multiple
              licenses from different states—and thereby close off certain paths to
              cross-state fraud. But without guidance and encouragement from DHS,
              states and other agencies may be less likely to coordinate in pursuit of
              these opportunities. Similarly, even though EVVE is not yet fully
              operational, states can still make it harder for criminals to use forged birth
              certificates by, for example, checking their own birth records for license
              applicants born in-state. However, without leadership from DHS, states
              and other agencies may be less likely to coordinate in pursuit of these
              opportunities or see the value in taking action. Additionally, in the
              absence of an effective DHS strategy to help states address these REAL
              ID Act requirements and high-risk vulnerabilities while the national

              Page 31                                        GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
                      systems are being developed, states may elect not to comply with the
                      Act, may invest in ad hoc or stopgap measures that are not sufficient for
                      compliance, or most importantly, may be ill-equipped to adequately
                      combat this type of fraud.

                      To enhance state driver licensing agencies’ ability to combat driver’s
Recommendations for   license fraud, consistent with the requirements of the REAL ID Act, we
Executive Action      recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security take the following
                      interim actions while national systems to detect cross-state and birth
                      certificate fraud are being developed:

                      1. Work with state, federal and other partners to develop and implement
                         an interim strategy for addressing cross-state license fraud. Such a
                         strategy could include, for example, expansion of AAMVA’s photo
                         sharing program or enhanced utilization of SSOLV to identify SSNs
                         that are queried multiple times by different states. This strategy should
                         include plans for sharing best practices and ideas for alternative
                         solutions among the states.
                      2. Work with states and other partners to develop and implement an
                         interim strategy for addressing birth certificate fraud. Such a strategy
                         could include, for example, coordination between driver licensing
                         agencies and state vital records agencies to verify birth certificates for
                         license applicants born in-state.

                      We provided a draft of this report to DHS and SSA for review and
Agency Comments       comment. In its written comments (see app. I), DHS did not concur with
and Our Evaluation    either of our recommendations, saying that interim strategies for
                      addressing cross-state and birth certificate fraud are not needed. The
                      agency said it has informed states that existing systems and procedures
                      may address these issues and meet regulatory requirements, and has
                      provided grant funds to help states develop their own new solutions. DHS
                      emphasized that states need the flexibility to adopt solutions that best fit
                      their individual circumstances. We acknowledge in our report that DHS
                      has supported states’ efforts to address cross-state and birth certificate
                      fraud in the ways it outlines in its comments. However, we continue to
                      believe that DHS needs to assume a more proactive role in these areas—
                      and that it is possible to do so without being overly prescriptive. State
                      driver licensing agencies remain vulnerable to cross-state and birth
                      certificate fraud. Existing systems and methods are not sufficient to
                      address the vulnerabilities, as our undercover work demonstrates. Given
                      the anticipated date (2023) for full implementation of the state-to-state

                      Page 32                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
system, and the continuing issues with driver licensing agencies’ use of
the EVVE system, states need new interim solutions and alternatives
now. And, officials in many of the states we contacted still said they are
confused about how to comply with certain REAL ID provisions, such as
those related to cross-state and birth certificate fraud, despite DHS’
efforts to provide information through conferences and responses to
individual state questions. A formal strategy for addressing these
vulnerabilities in the short term that is made available to all states in a
consistent manner would better enable states to learn about and
implement new options. Furthermore while DHS notes in its comments
that HHS has a statutory responsibility for setting minimum standards for
birth certificates, DHS involvement in this area is also critical because
establishing date of birth is a central part of the driver’s license application
process. DHS also provided technical comments, which we incorporated
as appropriate.

In its written comments (see app. II), SSA asked that we remove from our
first recommendation the reference to enhanced utilization of SSOLV as
one option for detecting cross-state fraud. As SSA notes, we do
acknowledge in our report that there may be challenges with such use of
SSOLV. Accordingly, our recommendation does not direct DHS and SSA
to proceed with modifying SSOLV. It directs DHS to consider, in
consultation with relevant partners, the enhanced use of SSOLV as one
of a range of options for addressing cross-state fraud. We expect that
DHS and SSA would more thoroughly evaluate the potential benefits and
challenges of using SSOLV for this purpose and jointly determine whether
to include this option in an overall strategy for combating cross-state
fraud. Consequently, we made no change in response to this comment.
SSA also provided technical comments which we incorporated as

We are sending copies of this report to the relevant congressional
committees, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Commissioner of
Social Security, and other interested parties. This report is also available
at no charge on GAO’s website at http://www.gao.gov.

Page 33                                        GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
If you or your staff have any questions regarding this report, please
contact me at (202) 512-7215 or bertonid@gao.gov. Contact points for
our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found
on the last page of this report. Staff members who made key contributions
to this report are listed in appendix III.

Daniel Bertoni, Director
Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues

Page 34                                    GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Appendix I: Comments from the Department
             Appendix I: Comments from the Department of
             Homeland Security

of Homeland Security

             Page 35                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Appendix I: Comments from the Department of
Homeland Security

Page 36                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Appendix I: Comments from the Department of
Homeland Security

Page 37                                       GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Appendix II: Comments from the Social
              Appendix II: Comments from the Social
              Security Administration

Security Administration

              Page 38                                 GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Appendix II: Comments from the Social
Security Administration

Page 39                                 GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff


                  Daniel Bertoni, 202-512-7215 or bertonid@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the contact named above, Lori Rectanus, Assistant Director;
Staff             Lorin Obler; Joel Marus; Susannah Compton; John Cooney, Jr.; Sarah
Acknowledgments   Cornetto; Keira Dembowski; Holly Dye; Robert Graves; Dana Hopings;
                  Kristy Kennedy; Otis Martin; Mimi Nguyen; George Ogilvie; Almeta
                  Spencer; and Walter Vance made key contributions to this report.

                  Page 40                                     GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
Related GAO Products
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             State Department: Undercover Tests Show Passport Issuance Process
             Remains Vulnerable to Fraud. GAO-10-922T. Washington, D.C.: July 29,

             Identity Theft: Governments Have Acted to Protect Personally Identifiable
             Information, but Vulnerabilities Remain. GAO-09-759T. Washington, D.C.:
             June 17, 2009.

             Social Security Numbers Are Widely Available in Bulk and Online
             Records, but Changes to Enhance Security Are Occurring.
             GAO-08-1009R. Washington, D.C.: September 19, 2008.

             Social Security Numbers: Use Is Widespread and Protection Could Be
             Improved. GAO-07-1023T. Washington, D.C.: June 21, 2007.

             Social Security Numbers: Federal Actions Could Further Decrease
             Availability in Public Records, though Other Vulnerabilities Remain.
             GAO-07-752. Washington, D.C.: June 15, 2007.

             Personal Information: Data Breaches Are Frequent, but Evidence of
             Resulting Identity Theft Is Limited; However, the Full Extent Is Unknown.
             GAO-07-737. Washington, D.C.: June 4, 2007.

             Personal Information: Key Federal Privacy Laws Do Not Require
             Information Resellers to Safeguard All Sensitive Data. GAO-06-674.
             Washington, D.C.: June 26, 2006.

             Social Security Numbers: Internet Resellers Provide Few Full SSNs, but
             Congress Should Consider Enacting Standards for Truncating SSNs.
             GAO-06-495. Washington, D.C.: May 17, 2006.

             Social Security Numbers: More Could Be Done to Protect SSNs.
             GAO-06-586T. Washington, D.C.: March 30, 2006.

             Identity Theft: Some Outreach Efforts to Promote Awareness of New
             Consumer Rights Are Under Way. GAO-05-710. Washington, D.C.: June
             30, 2005.

             Social Security Numbers: Governments Could Do More to Reduce
             Display in Public Records and on Identity Cards. GAO-05-59.
             Washington, D.C.: November 9, 2004.

             Page 41                                     GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
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           Social Security Numbers: Improved SSN Verification and Exchange of
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           Page 42                                   GAO-12-893 Driver's License Security
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