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Department of State: Undercover Tests Reveal Significant Vulnerabilities in State's Passport Issuance Process

GAO-09-447 Published: Mar 13, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 2009.
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A genuine U.S. passport is a vital document, permitting its owner to travel freely in and out of the United States, prove U.S. citizenship, obtain further identification documents, and set up bank accounts, among other things. Unfortunately, a terrorist or other criminal could take advantage of these benefits by fraudulently obtaining a genuine U.S. passport from the Department of State (State). There are many ways that malicious individuals could fraudulently obtain a genuine U.S. passport, including stealing an American citizen's identity and counterfeiting or fraudulently obtaining identification or citizenship documents to meet State requirements. GAO was asked to proactively test the effectiveness of State's passport issuance process to determine whether the process is vulnerable to fraud. To do so, GAO designed four test scenarios that simulated the actions of a malicious individual who had access to an American citizen's personal identity information. GAO created counterfeit documents for four fictitious or deceased individuals using off-the-shelf, commercially available hardware, software, and materials. An undercover GAO investigator then applied for passports at three United States Postal Service (USPS) locations and a State-run passport office.

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