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identity theft

You sure you’re registered?

Your voter registration could get cancelled without you realizing what’s happening.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 – often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data.


Statewide, more than 1.5 million voters could be on the path to cancellation if they fail to vote or to update their records for two consecutive federal elections: One out of every 10 Texas voters’ registration is currently suspended. Among voters under 30, the figure is about one in five.

Texas voter registration rates are among the lowest in the nation, but Texas pays nearly twice as much to cancel voters – 40 cents per cancellation – as it does to register new ones at 25 cents.

State and federal laws require the nation’s voter rolls be regularly reviewed and cleaned to remove duplicates and eliminate voters who moved away or died. But across Texas, such “removals” rely on outdated computer programs, faulty procedures and voter responses to generic form letters, often resulting in the wrong people being sent cancellation notices, including new homeowners, college students, Texans who work abroad and folks with common names, a Chronicle review of cancellations shows.

The Secretary of State’s office says it automatically cancels voters only when there is a “strong match” between a new registration and an older existing voter – such as full name, Social Security number and/or date of birth.

However, each year thousands of voters receive requests to verify voter information or be cancelled because they share the same name as a voter who died, got convicted of a crime or claimed to be a non-citizen to avoid jury duty. Those voters receive form letters generated by workers in county election offices that “therefore may be more subject to error,” said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State in emailed responses to the newspaper. Voters who fail to respond to form letters – or never receive them – get dropped.

First, since I have been critical of the Chron in the past for its mealy-mouthed characterization of the voter ID issue, let me praise them for this story. It raises an important issue that I daresay too many people don’t think much about. It’s also something that provably happens with great frequency, unlike those wild allegations about vote fraud.

We have some experience with mistaken identity in our house. There is another woman in this town with the same name as my wife and a history of not paying her bills. We know this because we have received numerous calls over the years from bill collectors. Some were easier to dissauade that the woman they were lookinf for was not at our house than others, but it was a giant pain regardless. If my wife can be mistaken for someone else by bill collectors, she can just as easily be misidentified by the Tax Assessor’s office in the event that woman goes to jail or dies or changes her name or something like that. As former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, whose registration was briefly suspended by the Tax Assessor’s office back in 2003 over a similar name confusion, said in the story, the burden of proof should be on them before any action is taken, and not on the voter.

All this, of course, is without even mentioning the potential for partisan mischief like what we’ve seen in Florida lately and in Harris County in recent years as well. There’s a reason there’s been so much litigation over the way the voter rolls are maintained. I was taught as a kid that the right to vote is one of this country’s basic foundations, but we sure don’t act like it. Neil and BOR have more.

Fighting identity theft

The U of Texas is studying it.

Identity theft is a cradle-to-grave problem that costs U.S. businesses $50 billion and affects at least 10 million consumers each year.

At least 1 million children’s identities are stolen over the course of a year — often misused by their parents, said Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer at ID Analytics. Adults are victimized, online and offline. Companies are compromised when unwitting employees use their company log-ins and passwords surfing the Internet.

Even death offers no respite: One study by Coggeshall showed that the identities of 800,000 dead Americans are being used for illegal purposes.

The Center for Identity at the University of Texas on Monday convened a two-day conference to discuss the scope of the problem and what can be done.

Peter Tippett, who helped create the first anti-virus software, is now with Verizon, which compiles the annual Data Breach Investigative Report.

“We do more computer crime cases than all other companies combined,” Tippett said.

Criminal organizations in the United States, Russia and Brazil are targeting consumers and businesses, Tippett said. He cited a Federal Trade Commission study for the $50 billion a year cost to businesses and the 10 million affected consumers.

Tippett said that 82 percent “of all data stolen by anybody on the planet was stolen because of your password.”

In a world where 123456 remains the most popular password, Tippett said making passwords longer and changing them more often isn’t the answer, with so much hacking and malware.

“If bad guys see what you type, it doesn’t matter how strong your password is,” Tippett said.

He likened the problem with passwords to seat belts in cars. He said seat belts were only 50 percent effective in saving lives, but making them stronger was not the answer. Adding air bags made cars safer.

A second identifying factor needs to be added to the passwords, Tippett said.

Two-factor authentication has a lot going for it, but it’s also another point of failure. One common way of delivering this without having to provide some kind of gadget that contains a personal certificate is to arrange to send an authorization code via text or voice to your phone, which is a great idea as long as you’re never without your phone. I suppose it or something like it is inevitable, though, so there’s no point complaining about it.

One thing this story doesn’t touch on is that a significant factor in identity theft isn’t just careless people with easily-cracked passwords, it’s also the many corporate and government entities that have all your data and which have become lucrative targets for evildoers, or in some cases have screwed up and let supposedly secure data out into the public, as Texas Comptroller Susan Combs did last year. Seems to me there needs to be greater incentive for the keepers of these databases to prevent their theft. One model I often hear discussed is to put the financial onus for this data loss on the entity that loses it and not the individuals who are affected by it. It’s the model we use for credit cards and ATMs, where your liability is limited and the financial institution bears the risk. Those transactions are pretty darned safe nowadays because of that. That takes legislation, which is clearly a tougher row to hoe than convincing millions of people to use better passwords. As the man said, there’s only so much benefit to be gained by strengthening passwords. The back end needs to be shored up as well.

Who will be affected by voter ID?

Let’s take a moment as we wait for the next round in the voter ID battle to consider who might actually have their right to vote affected by this unneeded piece of partisan legislation.

Meet Bessie Jenkins Foster.

The 98-year-old African-American woman, who is recovering from gallbladder surgery and is hard of hearing, went to three different local Texas Department of Public Safety offices last week. And three times she was turned away without getting her card.

“I feel bad,” said Foster, who at times has difficulty speaking. “To cash a check, or something, I need an ID card.”

Foster is one of countless people nationwide having trouble getting a state-issued photo identification card — the very kind that would be required to vote if a bill raging in the Texas Legislature becomes law.


Last week, Foster and [her daughter Robbie] Hamilton went to three DPS offices while they were running other errands. There, they presented Foster’s driver’s license that expired last July, along with her photo military identification, Social Security card and other documents.

They were told they needed Foster’s birth certificate, but when they brought a copy, they were told they had to bring the original.

They don’t have an original, though, and can’t get one because the birth certificate was lost when a 1968 fire destroyed the Walker County Courthouse in Huntsville. So they brought a copy provided by the Texas Department of Heath’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. But still had no luck.

Mrs. Foster will probably eventually get her ID card, since she’s fortunate enough to have family who can help her navigate the bureaucracy. Other folks may not be so lucky. No voting for them.

Meet Vanessa Edwards Foster, and the issues that transitioning transsexuals have with ID cards.

Identity Matters!” — TX State Sen, Florence Shapiro (R-Plano)

Both the transgender community and I couldn’t agree with the good senator more! For well over a decade, the transgender community has been pushing for passage of a name and gender change bill that would make the process much easier (alleviating the need for attorneys, courts, the idiosyncratic judges and their individual “discretion,” and especially the cost!) And for well over a decade, the legislature has ignored us. People transitioning, who have an ID in one gender but live as the other, will effectively be disallowed the vote per the Voter ID bill.

As Sen. Shapiro said in debate on the Senate floor, “we’re just trying to make sure everyone’s identification matches.” Sen. Fraser as well reiterated, declaring “I just want to make sure this person is who they say they are!” The trans community has been attempting to facilitate that with our own for years, and yet it’s these same partisans who’ve done nothing to attain that – zero. Therefore we have problems getting identification that matches our gender thanks to Texas’ Republicans and other Democrats running in fear of them – and yet also have to listen to the likes of Sen. Fraser complain about identities that don’t match!

Such a can of worms we’ve opened, isn’t it? Wait, there’s more.

Meet Matt Glazer. He was a victim of identity theft last year.

Credit cards were racked up in my name and they went as far as to attempt to take out student loans under my name.

The case is mostly resolved and soon my credit score and life should be back on track. However, my social security number is frozen and I am unable to get a new ID.

Yeah. That, um, could be a problem.

In the end, these three folks and everyone like them may wind up being able to vote. They’ll just have a harder time of it, and some of them will be unable to get past the newly-erected barriers between them and the ballot box. That’s what this is about – making it harder for a lot of legitimate voters to cast their ballots, so we can make it a little harder for a crime no one’s been arrested for to be committed. How exactly does that make sense?