Many businesses offer active-duty and retired members of the United States’ Armed Forces discounts on products and services.  While this is certainly a commendable practice, it is not without risk to the business offering the discount.  Many such businesses require some type of verification of a customer’s military status before qualifying the customer for the offered discount.  Many businesses, including those not offering discounts but needing verification of identity for other purposes, have adopted the practice of making a photocopy of the customer’s military identification card.  Doing so, however, while seemingly the easiest way to obtain such verification, can result in a criminal violation of Federal law.

The statute in question, 18 U.S.C. § 701, does not require intent or an evil motive, but rather, requires only the simple act of photocopying a military identification card to establish the violation. 

The statute in question provides:

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.

(Emphasis added).

If your business offers military discounts and collects verification of a customer’s military status, make sure your employees are aware of this prohibition and, if you have not done so already, a policy should be adopted and incorporated into your training program to ensure that this prohibition is known and complied with by your team. 

Please note that the only prohibition arising out of the above statute relates to photocopying the military identification card. You can ask to see the customer’s military identification card and can make note of all information contained on the card, you just cannot photocopy it. If merely making note of the information on the card is not sufficient for your internal purposes, you can request that the customer provide written confirmation of his or her status as a military member from his or her commanding officer.  Alternatively, you can obtain a Service Members Civil Relief Act Certificate through a public website which allows businesses to verify the current active military status of specific individuals. There is no charge for the certificate if obtained online. You can submit a request for the certificate on the Department of Defense’s website at www.defense.gov by searching for “Service Members Civil Relief Act Certificates.” 

As with any blanket prohibition, there are certain exceptions where the photocopying of military IDs is permitted. There is an exception for health care providers, which permits them to make photocopies of military IDs only for the purpose of providing benefits. This exception can be found in a  Department of Defense Instruction issued in 1997, and provides that civilian and military medical providers are authorized to photocopy military ID as proof of insurance for the purposes of providing medical care to Department of Defense beneficiaries.

Another exception is in connection with an employer’s compliance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, the federal statute governing the form I-9 process. This Act expressly permits the photocopying of any “document presented by an individual pursuant to this subsection.” Since a military identification card is one of the permissible forms of identification under this Act, an employer may photocopy the military ID and retain the copy (only for the purposes of complying with the Act).   

If your business offers military discounts, or has a practice of photocopying military identification cards for your business/commercial purposes, make certain your employees are aware of this prohibition and adjust your policies and procedures accordingly so you do not become an example of no good deed going unpunished.

If you have any questions regarding your policies or procedures in this area, please seek the advice of competent counsel.