The fake ID industry is booming, and with the latest technology, students and terrorists alike are getting savvy about their driver’s licenses.

While the college crowd begs for little more than admittance to campus bars, criminals use fake IDs for more sinister purposes. Police officers, bouncers and airport officials struggle to differentiate between real IDs and really good fakes. The New York Times recently noted Internet resources and advanced computer graphics software are so good even ID scanners are floundering.

A Transportation Security Administration representative observed individual airlines have the most control over who boards planes. “We suggest airlines require government issued IDs,” she said. “We’re mainly looking to see the person has a boarding pass.”

Asked whether the TSA was concerned about the increasing sophistication of fake IDs, she noted: “We’re always concerned about that.” However, she added, “If Joe Blow terrorist had an ID, before he even came to us, he’d have to go through the airline first.”

The most practical way to help officials crack down on terrorists trying to board planes with fake IDs is to eliminate student demand.

Any other approach, like it or not, pits government officials against very strong market forces. If students could drink and go to bars at 18, you’d better believe the fake ID business would take a dive. Those shady California and New Jersey IDs would be history. Some high school students have fakes, but in my experience, it isn’t until college that many consider having a fake to be a social necessity.

Lowering the drinking age is not encouraging drunkenness. Students get drunk often enough as it is, legally or otherwise. Many students who use fakes simply crave access to the local college hangouts. At 18, young adults can already get married, watch or perform in pornographic movies, own guns, serve on a jury, vote and join the army.

If it will screw the fake ID industry and help fight terrorism, why not make drinking legal at 18?

While many view the drinking age as a cultural given, it’s actually a recent development. Twenty-one years ago — July 17th, 1984 — the federal government threatened to cut off substantial funding for highways in states that refused to raise the drinking age to 21. States’ rights advocates were outraged at the intrusion on individual state laws.

Much of the push came from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups rightfully concerned about the correlation between fatal car crashes and intoxicated drivers. Still today many people worry lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 will increase the number of drunk driving incidents.

According to the World Almanac, 15-20 year olds make up roughly 8 percent of the U.S. population. Young drivers — especially young male drivers — account for a much higher share of injury and fatal car crashes than they do of the general population. Still, their share of alcohol-related crashes, while greater than their share of the population, is significantly smaller than their total share of accidents. Proponents of the current drinking age would cite this as proof the drinking age works. This assumes the only reason for a lower share of alcohol-related accidents is the 21-year age limit reducing access to alcohol. Yet zero-tolerance policies and the penalty of loss of a driver’s license may motivate many young drivers to be more responsible behind the wheel. Other possible explanations include teenage curfews and parental pressure.

The zero-tolerance laws in place already discourage teenagers from driving drunk. These laws should remain tough. With sufficiently strict laws against drunk driving — maybe even especially strict laws for young drivers — I doubt drunk driving would be anymore of a problem than it already is, in the long run.

If the law were consistent in discriminating against age groups that account for a large number of drunk driving accidents, it would forbid those over 69 from drinking as well. Senior citizens over the age of 69 make up about the same percentage of the U.S. population as 15- to 20-year-olds and are also disproportionately represented in drunk driving accidents.

Campus prohibition undermines the war on terrorism and fails to keep students from binge drinking. It pushes students who are desperate for complete adult status to view drinking to excess as proof of maturity.

A Wisconsin Department of Homeland Security representative told me he was unaware of any departmental investigations into the fake ID industry as a threat to national security. Considering the number of police officers raiding Madison’s college bars, I find this alarming.

The college demand for fakes isn’t going away. Until drinking at 18 is legal, the police are going to be wasting their time on college students holding beers instead of focusing on terrorists using fake IDs in a much more threatening manner.

Cynthia Martens ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in Italian and European Studies.