Sep 21 2012

Department of State Form DS-71: “Affidavit of Identifying Witness”

We don’t normally require our friends and family to show us their papers to establish their identities. We have better ways of recognizing who they are.

Many US government agencies, however, seems to want to make government-issued ID credentials the only way to establish who we are — even when Federal regulations require them to accept other forms of evidence of identity.

Case in point: Department of State Form DS-71: “Affidavit of Identifying Witness” for passport applicants.

As we’ve noted previously, the State Department’s own regulations at 22 C.F.R. § 51.28 entitle applicants for US passports to establish their identity by the affidavit of an identifying witness, in lieu of documentary evidence of identity.  But it seems like the State Department doesn’t really respect this right, and prefers to get all applicants to provide papers, rather than people, to “prove” who we are.

As of today, the version of Form DS-71 posted on the State Department’s website is an obsolete one whose use was approved by the Office of Management and Budget only until Dec. 31, 2005. Elsewhere on the State Department site, the link for Form DS-71 in the index of passport forms links to a PDF of an otherwise-blank page that says, “Please visit your local [passport] Acceptance Facility to obtain this form.”

Disturbingly, we’ve received reports from people who went to the State Department’s own passport offices, accompanied by witnesses prepared to identify them, and were told that no current version of Form DS-71 was actually available.

We can’t see any reason not to make this form available online with all the rest of the passport forms, much less not to have it available at passport offices, other than to hide its existence and discourage its use.

Having let its approval for any version of this form lapse for several years, and having now obtained only temporary approval that expires at the end of this month, the State Department is now in the process of seeking renewed OMB approval for a revised form, to be used for the next three years.

According to to the State Department’s application to OMB (which includes both the current and proposed versions of Form DS-71), the number of passport applicants using this form has declined dramatically, from 163,400 in 2009 to 44,000 this year.

The State Department claims that this decline is due to greater use of other “public records” by passport examiners. But a better explanation for the abrupt decline in use of this form is its removal from the State Department website and from availability at passport offices. Applicants for passports are providing other identifying records because they aren’t being told they have the alternative of establishing their identity with an affidavit from an identifying witness.

Have you tried to establish your identity to the Passport Office by having a witness identify you? Have you had trouble obtaining the proper form, or been discouraged from using it in favor of obtaining and providing other types of evidence of identity?  Please let us know.

[Update: Here’s the version of Department of State Form DS-71, “Affidavit of Identifying Witness”, most recently submitted to and approved by OMB.]