Photocopying a U.S. Government ID Is a Crime

By Anne M. Smith, Attorney

When asking for identification, institutions must be aware of an important federal statute that prohibits photocopying of a U.S. government ID.  Often, in situations such as real estate closings, a lender will make a copy of an ID card for its records, an action which is acceptable with most forms of identification.  The U.S. government, however, has a vested interest in protecting its personnel, and government security in general, and has made it a crime to photocopy a U.S. government ID.

Criminal elements and terrorist organizations consider U.S. government identification as a high value asset that can be used against the U.S. military.  Possible counterfeiting or “cloning” of a U.S. government identification card, whether held by a military member, family member, or a Department of Defense employee, is the reason for prohibition of photocopying of such an ID under TITLE 18 U.S.C. § 701: Official badges, identification cards, other insignia, as set out in part below:

“Whoever manufactures, sells or possesses any badge, identification card or other insignia of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such badge, identification card, or other insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

The federal statute is clear about the prohibition, but few institutions are aware of the copying ban.  Per the Department of Defense website at www.cac.mil, there are situations in which photocopying of U.S. government identification is permitted.  Such copies are permitted to facilitate medical care processing, check cashing, voting, tax matters, compliance with appendix 501 of title 50, U.S.C. (also known as “The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act”), or administering other military-related benefits to eligible beneficiaries.

When requesting ID for photocopying purposes, lenders should be mindful of this ban, and request other forms of identification if they are to be photocopied.  Other options for identification include:

  • State driver’s license or other photo ID
  • Written statement of verification of military service from member’s chain of command
  • Proof of Service letter confirming service dates
  • Statement of Service from local personnel office confirming military status

Violation of this federal statute can result in up to six months imprisonment, and/or a fine in an unstated amount.  The statute formerly stated a fine of $250, but that has since been revised in favor of more ambiguous terms.  One final reminder:  Both the institution and the card holder should ensure that the card holder’s social security number is redacted from any copies.

Anne Smith is an attorney of the Real Estate Default Group of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., LPA, located in the Cincinnati office. She can be reached at 513.333.4012 and ansmith@weltman.com.

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