The alternative license will contain a Radio Frequency Identification chip, commonly known as RFID, which the guard booths will use to scan the license as a traveler or trucker pulls up to the booth. U.S. passports issued since late 2006 already contain RFID chips.The head of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, was in Seattle in late March to help Gov. Chris Gregoire kick off the pilot program, which, if successful, could be rolled out to all the border states. He told The Seattle Times that he couldn't understand why anyone would have concerns about these enhanced licenses, which will be helpful for locals who want to attend the winter Olympic Games in British Columbia in 2010:
Chertoff said concerns that such enhanced licenses could lead to invasions of privacy are misguided.But there are real reasons to be concerned. One is the federal government's use of "data mining" to find what President Bush might call evildoers, efforts described this way by Chertoff:
"For the life of me, I can't understand it," Chertoff said. "Right now, anyone can fabricate a driver's license in my name on Windows. Why am I better off with that?"
Finding other creative ways to rapidly compile and sort through large volumes of information is a core function of the Department of Homeland Security, Chertoff said.But that, in fact, is precisely what it is. And not just people moving into and out of the country. Chertoff does not rule out using such cards for internal security purposes. And we already know that the government has been abusing its power in the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping, the suspect mining of banking and phone records, and unlawful abuse (by the FBI) of the Patriot Act, just for starters. What is the basis for trust here? Why wouldn't we think that computer-chipped ID cards and surprise searches might be used to track innocent citizens or destroy our freedoms? It is already being done. On March 21, Danny Westneat wrote a column in the Times on how the U.S. Border Patrol set up a roadblock in Forks on the Olympic Peninusla – well inside the U.S. – to question citizens who weren't even crossing a border:
"The ability to sort through information quickly and identify patterns and linkages is to the 21st century what radar was to the 20th century," Chertoff said. "It's the way you isolate danger from a large pool of benign people."
Chertoff said he no longer refers to such activity as "data mining," because "it conjures up images that you are digging into people's personal information and extracting it."
... [F]ederal Border Patrol agents blocked the highway outside town. For four hours, every car, truck and bus driving south on Highway 101 was pulled off the road and all passengers questioned.Computer-chip ID cards would allow the feds to scan innocent citizens for information. An article in the February King County Bar Bulletin by Christina Drummond and Roberto Sanchez of the ACLU laid out the dangers that Radio Frequency ID poses to personal privacy:
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags promise to make it easier to access toll roads, get on the bus or train, or breeze through customs and immigration at the airport. But in their present form, these tags lack safeguards to prevent the unauthorized reading, collection and misuse of their information. Their premature use in transportation and identity documents - anything dealing with people - could expose millions to identity theft, tracking and surveillance, and other invasions of privacy.Such chips are about to be used to collect tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and transportation planners are constantly extolling the virtues of smart technology. But in the current security climate, with private companies also data-mining to track consumers, and with the ever-present threat of identity theft and fraud, we might want consider some of the risks – risks Chertoff and Gregoire seem oblivious to:
An RFID tag used in a toll-road system or for a bus pass could allow someone else to track driving and traveling patterns by the ID number. If that tag is in a license or passport, the implications are staggering – marketers could keep track of customers as they move through a mall, noting their shopping patterns without their knowledge; government officials could scan political meetings and rallies and record the identifiers of attendees; terrorists could scan these signals to target Americans abroad.In many respects, privacy in the U.S. is already a thing of the past – none of us have much of it left. But as a matter of public policy, protecting what remains is all the more essential. So is protecting the fundamental presumption that we have a right to freedom in the first place. Washington state is right to resist Real ID, not just on fiscal grounds but for the sake of civil liberties. The feds should dump the program, and no national ID card should be created. But we should also be careful about the kinds of technologies and compromises we make for other, seemingly more benign purposes. Time and again we have seen technologies designed for our convenience or supposed protection turned against us, and not just by terrorists.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!