Chips in official IDs raise privacy fears

Posted: July 20, 2009 in Arizona, biometrics, government spending, Real ID Act of 2005, RFID, TX, Vermont, Washington D.C.

AP/National Examiner

Embedding identity documents — passports, drivers licenses, and the like — with RFID chips is a no-brainer to government officials. Increasingly, they are promoting it as a 21st century application of technology that will help speed border crossings, safeguard credentials against counterfeiters, and keep terrorists from sneaking into the country.

But with advances in tracking technologies coming at an ever-faster rate, critics say, it won’t be long before governments could be able to identify and track anyone in real time, 24-7, from a cafe in Paris to the shores of California.

The key to getting such a system to work, these opponents say, is making sure everyone carries an RFID tag linked to a biometric data file.

On June 1, it became mandatory for Americans entering the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to present identity documents embedded with RFID tags, though conventional passports remain valid until they expire.Among new options are the chipped “e-passport,” and the new, electronic PASS card — credit-card sized, with the bearer’s digital photograph and a chip that can be scanned through a pocket, backpack or purse from 30 feet.

Alternatively, travelers can use “enhanced” driver’s licenses embedded with RFID tags now being issued in some border states: Washington, Vermont, Michigan and New York. Texas and Arizona have entered into agreements with the federal government to offer chipped licenses, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended expansion to non-border states. Kansas and Florida officials have received DHS briefings on the licenses, agency records show.

Such assurances don’t persuade those who liken RFID-embedded documents to barcodes with antennas and contend they create risks to privacy that far outweigh the technology’s heralded benefits. They warn it will actually enable identity thieves, stalkers and other criminals to commit “contactless” crimes against victims who won’t immediately know they’ve been violated.
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