Just because it’s “official” doesn’t necessarily mean a birth certificate is real, WND has reported in its coverage of the dispute over President Obama’s eligibility. Now it seems that not even “real” means “real.”

That’s after Puerto Rico officials have determined a law enacted in December – apparently to combat identity theft – will make every Puerto Rican birth certificate invalid July 1.

According to the Associated Press, that means hundreds of thousands of people of Puerto Rican descent in the 50 states will have to arrange to get new documentation.

“I was planning a trip, and now I don’t know,” Julissa Flores, 33, of Orlando, Fla., told AP. “Do I need to go get a passport? If my birth certificate is invalid, am I stuck here?”

The report said Puerto Rico’s legislature passed the law after a series of investigations last year that broke up a crime consortium suspected of stealing thousands of birth certificates and other identifying documents from several schools.

Since the island is a U.S. commonwealth, residents born there are U.S. citizens at birth. Anyone with a stolen Puerto Rican birth certificate, then, could enter and move around the U.S. without obstacles.

Kenneth McClintock Hernandez, Puerto Rico’s secretary of state, said he was told four in 10 identity fraud cases in the U.S. involves a birth certificate from Puerto Rico.

So the legislature acted, and following the July 1 deadline when all previous documents will become invalid, the government will issue a temporary, 15-day certificate for those in dire need of documentation.

But the State Department told AP it still is deciding how to handle passport applications where the certificates are no longer valid.

The question of birth certificates, and their forgeries, has moved into the headlines over the past year and a half because of questions about President Obama’s eligibility and his birth certificate.

Barack Obama’s purported, computer-generated COLB

A previous WND investigation revealed that over the past three decades, changes to how the 50 states process vital documents have opened new avenues for nefarious parties to alter records and thus acquire fraudulent, but official birth certificates to falsely pass as U.S. citizens.

Thanks to the states’ nearly exclusive reliance on digitalized vital records, a foreign terrorist, for example, wishing to obtain a U.S. passport for unhindered travel in and out of the country could – with the right computer knowledge or coercion of the right state employee – walk into a county courthouse and within minutes, pick up a genuine, but completely fraudulent American birth certificate for his passport application, and no one would be the wiser.

“It’s entirely possible that these [vital records] systems could be altered by someone who wishes to do so,” said Professor Eugene H. Spafford, executive director of the Center for Education.

In that WND report, Spafford said the push to digitalize vital records and rely on computers to print out official documents – like Barack Obama’s presented Certification of Live Birth, or COLB – has created the opportunity for fraud and deception to slip through the cracks.

Get the must-wear clothing item for 2010! “Where’s the birth certificate” T-shirt!

“Many state systems – and federal systems for that matter – that keep records [electronically] generally have weaker controls than what should be in place,” Spafford said. “And with tight budgets, the amount of time spent keeping them up-to-date, auditing the log records and following up on exceptions tends to be one of the things that’s neglected.”

The federal government has already admitted that the states’ systems of vital records have been routinely breached.

In 1976, the Justice Department advisory committee pointed out that false identification was a serious national problem, prompting the U.S. Public Health Service to revise its Model State Vital Statistics Act in 1977, in part to strengthen efforts to reduce rampant birth certificate fraud.

But nearly a decade later, a task force sponsored by the national citizens’ association Laws at Work concluded: “In some jurisdictions, birth certificates are easily counterfeited, obtained through imposture or created from stolen legitimate blank forms.”

Then, in 1986, the Inspector General Office of Analysis and Inspection followed up with its own study on birth certificates and found, “They are definitely being used for fraudulent purposes. We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

The findings, coupled with advances in computer technology, led to sweeping changes across the country in the two decades since.

WND contacted each of the 50 states and the nation’s capital to learn what they’ve done to protect America’s vital records.

Beginning with California in 1978, and with progressively more and more states through the 1980s to today, the U.S. began moving away from paper files to computerized databases as the primary storage for birth certificates.

One by one, and pushed by changes in privacy laws, states also began eliminating the issuance of the “old” form of birth certificates – with birth weight and babies’ footprints and other identifying details – and producing instead simplified birth certificates, printed off a computer, with a minimum of information.

The new short forms, sometimes called “abstracts” or “certifications of live birth,” are now the standard issue in nearly all 50 states, with Kansas and Mississippi among the few exceptions. Most states still issue a long-form certificate upon request, but in some states, such as New Hampshire, Colorado, Arkansas, Utah and Vermont, the long-form certificates, which might include details such as the doctor’s signature or hospital of birth, are no longer available for babies born after a certain date.

Spafford confirmed to WND there are cases in which official records have been compromised.

“Records from the Veterans Administration have been compromised on several occasions. Medical records from the agency that handles military medical data were compromised a few years ago. These kinds of things do tend to happen,” he said.

The WND research indicated that in Arizona and Colorado, for example, officials offer same-day service for applicants, who can walk into a county office, ask for an official copy of their COLB and walk out with it within the hour.

WND asked staffers in both states, “Would someone have to check for a paper record on file somewhere? Verify anything more than what the computer database says?”

Staffers from both states answered, “No. It’s all computerized.”

WND has reported on the many legal challenges claiming Obama did not meet the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that a president be a “natural born citizen.” The lawsuits have asserted he either was not born in Hawaii as he claims or was a dual citizen because of his father’s British citizenship at the time of his birth. Questions also have been raised about his travels to Pakistan as a youth.

The Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, states, “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

But Obama has refused to release documentation, including an original birth certificate, that would show his eligibility. He’s also declined to release his Columbia thesis, his kindergarten records, Punahou school records, Occidental College records, Columbia University records, Harvard Law School records, Harvard Law Review articles, scholarly articles from the University of Chicago, passport, medical records, files from his years as an Illinois state senator, his Illinois State Bar Association records and any baptism records and his adoption records.

It was because of the dearth of information about Obama’s eligibility, WND founder Joseph Farah has launched a campaign to raise contributions to post billboards asking a simple question: “Where’s the birth certificate?”

“Where’s The Birth Certificate?” billboard at the Mandalay Bay resort on the Las Vegas Strip

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