A shocking number of fake driver's licenses, Social Security numbers and other fraudulent identity papers are for sale online, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief told congressional appropriators Thursday while requesting a funding boost for cyber investigations.
"We have seen an alarming rise in these documents that you can get over the Internet. They are produced in China," ICE Director John Morton said.
The Obama administration's 2013 budget request includes a $23 million increase to modernize the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, or TECS, with updated features to improve the way investigators manage cases, share intelligence and trace laundered money.
"So much of our work as a criminal investigative agency is moving from the street to the Internet," Morton said. ICE computer forensics specialists probe the illicit online transfer of strategic technologies, intellectual property, counterfeit drugs and child pornography.
Homeland Security Department officials shared their cyber plans with a House Appropriations Committee panel on the same day DHS' inspector general released a report highlighting problems with TECS.
"Data entry in TECS is an ineffective method for sharing information, as the U.S. Border Patrol does not have access to the TECS investigative module, and ICE [Homeland Security Investigations] considers some Border Patrol case information to be delayed or incorrectly entered into TECS," wrote acting IG Charles K. Edwards.
Separately, ICE on Wednesday opened a new office to coordinate a multiagency effort aimed at stopping the exportation of sensitive U.S. technologies. The Export Enforcement Coordination Center will be run in partnership with the Commerce and Justice departments.
In addressing immigration enforcement, Morton acknowledged mistakes in the way his agency has communicated information about Secure Communities, a controversial fingerprinting program that matches immigrant prints with prints the FBI maintains to flag dangerous foreigners for potential deportation.
Secure Communities has drawn criticism from immigrant rights groups who say it discourages victims from reporting domestic abuse and other crimes in their communities to authorities. Those harmed fear they will be deported along with their family members, lawmakers said at the hearing.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there -- much of that is the agency's fault," Morton said, adding that ICE needs to make clear such activities are not happening or are issues that are being addressed.
The inspector general's review also identified technological glitches with ICE's enforcement and removal operations. Edwards found the agency's fingerprinting equipment to be "insufficient" and data server connectivity was unreliable.
Under the proposed budget, Homeland Security's immigration database program, US-VISIT, which houses the fingerprints, will cease functioning as a separate agency and be folded into ICE and CBP.
ICE is asking for $17.6 million to transfer over the parts of the system that aid in tracking visitors who have overstayed their visas. This week, DHS officials said within weeks, theywill have a plan for a biometric system capable of finding people whose visas have expired.