Don Quixote

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From: Tom Sweetnam (
Date: Mon Aug 21 2000 - 19:04:14 PDT

Broadcast on C-Span2 today was a Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing chaired by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), which purportedly addressed the problem of easily available fake identification documents on the Internet.

David Meyers, head of the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation was a leading witness. He stated that the number of fake ID documents seized in Florida that came through his office went from 1% traceable to the Internet in 1997, to 30% in 1999, to an estimated 70% in 2000. Meyers did not point out however, that his office deals strictly with bank fraud and other white collar crime, and not with immigration fraud, moving vehicle violations, nor any of the countless other criminal infractions where fake ID comes into play. Nevertheless, his selective semantics and that of nearly all other invited witnesses seemed carefully orchestrated in its hostility toward the Internet.

Meyers stated that the quality of fake documentation available via electronic media is such that many official agencies have considerable trouble telling the difference between official documents and Internet-provided fake documentation, even under laboratory scrutiny. This includes passports and drivers licenses printed with holograms and magnetic striping. Meyers pointed out that many web sites offer specific templates that an individual can download, and then make their own fake ID using programs like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photopaint, and a good color laser printer. Information on esoteric fonts, inks, and papers used in specialty documentation is easily available on the Internet as well.

Brian Stafford, Director of the Secret Service, painted as damning a picture of the Internet as Iíve ever heard from a Clinton administration bureaucrat, his speech itself sounding like it was stamped from some archaic federal government template. To my mindís eye at least, his was yet another cry in the dark from an administration long fearful of information technology, and one that has exhibited considerable hostility toward the proliferation of the Internet in general. Stafford stated that nearly all bank fraud arrests involving fake documentation could trace the fake ID involved to Internet web sites, and he stated as well, that the Internet should be looked upon as the nationís greatest source of organized crime (!!??). Where the head of the Secret Service comes off as an expert witness on bank fraud and organized crime is beyond me, so it shouldnít surprise anyone that he provided absolutely no documentation nor figures to substantiate any of his outlandish claims either. Stafford further urged the Senate Subcommittee to strengthen federal control and regulation of all "questionable" web sites, and closed his speech by stating that the Internet poses the greatest single threat extant against law enforcement and the federal government. Ho hum. Same old sawhorse.

The most interesting witness of all however, was a 23 year-old computer engineer whose name I failed to record (sorry), who is currently in jail in Florida, and is awaiting sentencing by a federal court for several counts of bank fraud. His crimes involved gleaning personal information on several individuals from Internet web sites with which he could defraud banks. Interestingly, the two main web sites he used to engineer his scams were both provided by the federal government: the SEC, which publishes as a matter of public record, the names, titles, social security numbers, addresses and phone numbers of many of Americaís leading executives involved in IPOs or other stock offerings, and a Senate web site that announces pending promotions for senior military officers, providing as well, all of the same personal information on these individuals as that published by the SEC on business executives.

With this information, gleaned from a local library computer, untraceable to himself, the young engineer also downloaded ID templates from a fake ID web site, and then proceeded to establish several new identities for himself in the names of wealthy and financially secure individuals he found on the SEC and Senate web sites. Next, he printed up fake W2s and fake birth certificates, then took them to the DMV, got new drivers licenses, and then proceeded to apply for auto loans on several web bank loan sites under each of his fake IDs. He was granted all of the loans for which he applied, the bank transfers set up as direct transactions between the bank and the auto dealerships, so all our young scam artist had to do was to show up at the dealership, produce his fake ID, sign the sales contract, and drive away in a new car...several of them for that matter, which he promptly unloaded. He made $60,000 in a few weeks with minimal effort, but of course he was caught and will now spend at least three years in prison.

Yet this whole Senate Subcommittee hearing wasnít really about the problem of fake ID, was it? How could it possibly have been about the problem of fake ID in America, when absolutely no one in this hearing chamber broached the subject of illegal immigration? Long before the Internet, for the past 40 years as a matter of fact, millions upon millions of fake social security cards, green cards, immigration cards, drivers licenses, voter registration cards, and VA disability cards were being used by Mexican illegal aliens to defraud federal and state agencies of billions of dollars. Even the most conservative estimates put the number of Mexican illegal aliens in the US at some 22 million, all of them using fake ID of some sort, and many of them using fake voter registration cards as well, to vote for the Democrats of course, as has been illuminated in Northern California, Illinois, and elsewhere in the past, which may be why these particular 20 million fake ID holders are invisible to the Clinton administration, and perhaps to Senate Subcommittees as well. The fact that illegals are employed just as gainfully by Republicans as by Democrats only ads to their to overall bureaucratic transparency. And insofar as Secret Service Director Brian Staffordís claim that the Internet is the nationís primary channel of organized crime, any DEA or FBI agent, or any policeman, or any community activist in any inner city in America would quickly rebuff such nonsense and point instead at Mexican and Colombian drug cartels as the criminal entity causing far and away the most human misery in these Untied States.

Couched in semantic nonsense and evasion though it was, this hearing was really about bankers and their favorite bedfellow -our federal government. It was about the considerable fear that each harbors toward the evolving information technology and the control that each would like to exude over that very "threat". I reminded myself during this hearing that the broadcast channel on which I was watching it, C-Span, just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and for the first three years of its existence, C-Span had to battle fist, tooth, and nail against formidable bureaucratic opposition. No bureaucrat in Washington (especially not the elected ones) wanted the American people having access to their own governmentís daily parliamentary proceedings. C-Span was information technology of the most radical bent, at least twenty years ago it was, something to be distrusted and feared by those who wanted a monopoly on information. And now the old guard faces a new information technology the likes of which very few could have envisioned 20 years ago, the likes of which very few understand even at this point in the game. So they fear it instead. Well they should as far as Iím concerned. I suppose thatís why I didnít see a problem with fake ID in that Senate hearing today. What I saw instead was Don Quixote looking the fool, his helmet flopping down over his eyes, galloping in circles while blindly flailing his sword at a windmill...

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