Thursday, July 31, 2008

Want to Buy a Blank Passport?

Are those UK passports that were stolen yesterday really so unusable as the UK Identity and Passport Services said they are?

As Janice Kephart of the Center for Immigration Studies points out, if the blank passports have a high monetary value on the black market, which the UK authorities themselves say is the case, then they must be usable for something.

The UK government is not being disingenuous; to a large degree they are right technically about the forensics of these documents. What this tells us is that we should appreciate the progress made so far in securing against terrorist travel, including the International Civil Aviation Organization's standards for secure chips in passports that hold a bearer's personal information. These chips do make it much harder for a terrorist or criminal to assume a lost or stolen passport identity of the original bearer. US policy insisting that visa-waiver countries have e-passports to stay in the program is right on. But the mere fact that these passports have a street value potential of near $5 million is enough to tip us off that there are still many ways to use a nice, new blank passport from a country of stature like the UK that have little or nothing to do with the chip it contains.

So what can they be used for?

Passports are not just for crossing borders, they are breeder documents themselves. Banks don't have e-passport readers. Nor do federal buildings. Nor motor vehicle agencies. We still take a passport at its face value. Identity thieves, those who assume identities, the black market of travel documents abused by alien smugglers, travel facilitators, organized crime syndicates and terrorists, are all potential bidders for this heist. In other words, this heist isn't just about border security, it is about all varieties of crimes that threaten nations and communities.

That makes sense to me.

No comments: