Washington – In advance of Passport Day on April 9, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today reintroduced legislation to end vulnerabilities in the State Department’s passport issuance process. The Passport Identity Verification Act (PIVA), S.744, responds to troubling findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during the last two years that were revealed at a series hearings chaired by Senator Cardin.
“The U.S. passport is the gold standard for identification. It certifies an individual’s identity and U.S. citizenship, and allows the passport holder to travel in and out of the United States and to foreign countries, obtain further identification documents, and set up bank accounts. We simply cannot issue U.S. passports in this country on the basis of fraudulent documents. There is too much at stake,” said Senator Cardin. “Passports issued under false identities enable individuals to conceal their movements and activities, potentially helping terrorists and other criminals. The State Department has made some improvements in its ability to detect passport fraud, but there are still gaps in the process.”
“The fact that people in an undercover investigation were able to fraudulently obtain passports is troubling and raises a giant red flag in our passport issuance process. This legislation is critical to closing this security gap by providing the State Department with an increased ability to detect passport fraud,” Senator Feinstein said.
“Passport fraud is a preventable crime that cannot be ignored in the age of terrorism. This commonsense legislation would allow State Department officials to verify the accuracy of passport applications by providing them access to law enforcement databases. Strong privacy controls are included in this bill, which would take a small but significant step toward improved national security,” Senator Lieberman said.
“Our government has to stand firmly behind every passport it issues – and we need to make sure the people getting passports are who they say they are. This bill gives the State Department the tools it needs to detect passport fraud and keep our country safe. I look forward to working with Senator Cardin and my Senate colleagues to pass this important, commonsense legislation,” said Senator Kerry.
“Congress can help by giving the State Department all the tools it needs through the Passport Identity Verification Act (PIVA). The bill is a commonsense solution that will give the State Department the legal authority it needs to access relevant information contained in databases that can be used to verify the identity of every passport applicant and detect fraud, without extending the time it takes the State Department to approve passports,” Senator Cardin added.
In the 111th Congress, Senator Cardin introduced his legislation during a Judiciary Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing he chaired entitled, “The Passport Issuance Process: Closing the Door to Fraud.” During the hearing, senior officials from the GAO and State Department testified that genuine U.S. passports were issued to GAO investigators by the State Department on the basis of fake drivers’ licenses and birth certificates. Witness testimony from Part I, which was held on May 5, 2009, can be found here. Witness testimony from Part II, which was held on July 29, 2010, can be found here.