- Some federal and state government officials want to make
state driver's licenses harder to counterfeit or steal, by adding computer
chips that emit a radio signal bearing a license holder's unique, personal
- In Virginia, where several of the 9/11 hijackers obtained
driver's licenses, state legislators Wednesday will hear testimony about
how radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags may prevent identity
fraud and help thwart terrorists using falsified documents to move about
- Privacy advocates will argue that the radio tags will
also make it easy for the government to spy on its citizens and exacerbate
identity theft, one of the problems the technology is meant to relieve.
- Virginia is among the first states to explore the idea
of creating a smart driver's license, which may eventually use any combination
of RFID tags and biometric data, such as fingerprints or retinal scans.
- "Nine of the 19 9/11 terrorists obtained their licenses
illegally in Virginia, and that was quite an embarrassment," said
Virginia General Assembly delegate Kathy Byron, chairwoman of a subcommittee
looking into the use of so-called smart driver's licenses, which may include
- The biometric data would make it harder for an individual
to use a stolen or forged driver's license for identification. The RFID
tags would make the licenses a "contact-less" technology, verifying
IDs more efficiently, and making lines at security checkpoints move quicker.
- Because information on RFID tags can be picked up from
many feet away, licenses would not have to be put directly into a reader
device. If there was any suspicion that a person was not who he claimed
to be, ID checkers could take him aside for fingerprinting or a retinal
- States need to adopt technologies that can ensure a driver's
license holder is who he says he is, said Byron.
- Federal legislators may also require states to comply
with uniform "smart card" standards, making state driver's licenses
into national identification cards that could be read at any location throughout
the country. The RFID chips on driver's licenses would at a minimum transmit
all of the information on the front of a driver's license. They may also
eventually transmit fingerprint and other uniquely identifiable information
to reader devices.
- But federal mandates for adding RFID chips to driver's
licenses would create an impossible burden for states, which will have
to shoulder the costs of generating new licenses, and installing reader
devices in their motor vehicle offices, said a states' rights advocate.
- "It could easily become yet another unfunded federal
mandate, of which we already have $60 billion worth," said Cheye Calvo,
director of the transportation committee at the National Conference of
- Drivers with E-ZPass tags on their windshields can already
cruise through many highway toll booths without stopping, thanks to RFID
- RFID tags, which respond to signals sent out by special
reader devices, have in some tests demonstrated broadcast ranges up to
30 feet. Reader devices have proven to possess similar "sensing"
ranges. This is what has some privacy advocaters worried, including one
testifying tomorrow before the Virginia legislators.
- "The biggest problem is that these tags are remotely
readable," said Christopher Calabrese, council for the American Civil
Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program.
- RFID tags inside driver's licenses will make it easy
for government agents with readers to sweep large areas and identify protestors
participating in a march, for example. Privacy advocates also fear that
crooks sitting on street corners could remotely gather personal information
from individual's wallets, such as their birth dates and home addresses
-- the same information many bank employees use to verify account holders'
- Information from card readers could also be coupled with
global positioning system data and relayed to satellites, helping the government
form a comprehensive picture of the comings and goings of its citizens.
- Driver's licenses with RFID tags may also become a tool
that stalkers use to follow their victims, said Calabrese. "We're
talking about a potential security nightmare."
- But opponents of the use of RFID and other technologies
in driver's licenses and state issued ID cards are conflating RFID's technological
potential with its potential for abuse by government authorities, said
Robert D. Atkinson, vice president at the Progressive Policy Institute.
- "Putting a chip or biometric data on a driver's
license doesn't change one iota the rules under which that information
can be used," said Atkinson.
- The Virginia legislators may balk at the use of RFID
in driver's licenses, however, unless they can be proven to be immune from
use by spies and identity thieves.
- "I can't see us using RFID until we're comfortable
we can without encroaching on individual privacy, and ensure it won't be
used as a Big Brother technology by the government," said Joe May,
chairman of the Virginia General Assembly's House Science and Technology
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