Saturday, July 31, 2010

An RFID Tag in Your Driver's License?

by Patrick J. Kiger

CNet News reports that New York state has begun offering enhanced driver's licenses embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, which can be read from a distance by a receiver device.

The new RFID driver's license, which will cost an additional $30 over the standard $50 licensing fee, will provide identification that can be used at the border in lieu of a U.S. passport, which these days is also RFID-equipped.

CNet says U.S. border officials will be able to scan the RFID-equipped license authorities to identify U.S. citizens entering the country from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. Intercontinental travelers will still need to produce a passport to enter the country.

In issuing the new licenses, New York becomes only the second state, following Washington, to offer RFID-equipped identification that can be used at U.S. border crossings. Such identification is part of the federal government’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was mandated by Congress in 2004 after being recommended by the 9/11 Commission. The initiative is intended to control movement across the U.S. border by verifying the citizenship and identity of everyone entering the United States by land, sea or air from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

RFID tags are viewed with concern by privacy advocates and civil libertarians, who fear that they could be used for government surveillance as well as identity verification. Some also warn that RFID-enhanced documents are vulnerable to RFID hackers, who can intercept the signals and clone the chips for their own illicit use.

In response to these worries, the state of New York is mailing each one with a protective storage sleeve that prevents transmission, commented DMV spokesman Ken Brown, in a recent article in Newsday. Brown added that the only personal information contained in the tag is a number that would be meaningless except to Homeland Security agents.

Manufacturers are also now marketing specially designed RFID-blocking wallets to protect users from identity theft.

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