Enhanced Driver’s Licenses: A Civil Liberties Nightmare

This piece originally appeared on the ACLU of Northern California's blog.

If someone tried to sell you security software that was ten years old, would you buy it? Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to spend money on something that’s now outdated and vulnerable. Just like it doesn’t make sense for California to spend millions on driver’s licenses that come with unencrypted computer chips – especially when you consider that those chips have been widely recognized as insecure for over a decade.

Unfortunately, the California legislature passed a bill that would do just that.

If Gov. Brown doesn’t veto SB 249 (Hueso), the California Department of Motor Vehicles will issue “enhanced” driver’s licenses (EDLs) that use unencrypted computer chips called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

Experts warned that this technology was insecure ten years ago, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under President Bush first introduced these licenses. Back then, DHS admitted that the personal information stored in these chips could be read from a distance of up to 30 feet.

In fact, a security researcher built a reader with $250 in spare parts, drove around downtown San Francisco, and proved how easy it is to read and copy these documents – without anyone ever knowing or even suspecting their information was being skimmed.

Sound creepy? That’s because it is. This technology is a dream come true for identity thieves and stalkers, and a civil liberties nightmare for Californians concerned about government intrusion and tracking.

Proponents of these EDLs are pitching these licenses as a way to speed up border crossings. But that is an empty promise when the state can’t control border wait times, and SB 249 fails to ensure that EDLs have even the most basic privacy and security safeguards included in a U.S. passport and modern smartchip credit cards. These days even smartphone messages are encrypted. Should your driver’s license be less protected than your text messages?

The bill would also give any employer in the state the green light to make EDLs a job requirement even if the licenses are not job-related. This would allow an employer to fire or refuse to hire those who are unwilling to put their personal privacy at risk or anyone not eligible for an EDL, such as noncitizens or those that don’t pass a federal background check.

For this reason, and many others, the ACLU of California and numerous other organizations across the political spectrum have expressed significant privacy and safety concerns.

Other states have rightly refused to adopt EDLs. There is no reason why California should settle for this unnecessary, outdated and risky technology.

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Why even issue driver licenses? Vehicles are registered and insurance maintained by law to cover damages in case of accidents.

The right to use highways for travel and transport is a right and not a privilege. Private travel should not be restricted. If you make your living on the highways, maybe require a license but not for most who are traveling privately.

Why not stand up for the rights of people to travel the highways without getting stopped at unconstitutional checkpoints? Never mind the gay wedding cakes. Never mind trademarking generic names for bad music groups. Preserve the right to travel without having to haff ze papers in order to exercise the basic freedom of travel. Help to preserve freedom and not enabling the police state. Orwell's 1984 is here, a few years late.


Disagree. Roads are publicly funded. But you do not have a right to use them. Using them is a privilege. A DL confirms that at some point, you were physically and mentally capable of driving, and understood the rules pertaining to a shared (and lethal) space.


Obviously Anonymous has a very bad driving record. I have several friends like that - they blame everyone but themselves for their own stupidity. I especially like their "the cops are out to get me" mantra.

Back to the original issue - there must be someone doing a massive job of lobbying in California for them to let something like that slide in. Why do legislators put so much faith in lobbyists instead of consulting their own IT people and having them do the research and report on it to them?

David Burress

Like it or not, drivers licensing has assisted anti-drunk driving enforcement in reducing the ratio of alcohol-related deaths to all vehicle deaths from 60% in 1970s to 30% now.

Ann Williams

Never mind those who have to travel to get to work or look for work. That's what this is really about. Driver's licenses are an extension of the old Slave Badges that were required by the Slave Patrol, now the Highway Patrol. It's a means to restrict certain persons from being able to economically progress. That's all.


Why have licenses?? As dangerously as many drivers who supposedly passed the test drive, that should be a moot point. In the U.S. We have the right to travel freely, but that does not and should not mean that we have the right to operate heavy machinery without any proof of minimal competency. If you can't get the license, thereby proving necessary skill to operate a vehicle according to traffic laws, then you certainly should not be allowed to drive. You can travel however you like, but not when you are putting others at risk.

As a favorite teacher of mine once said- your rights end where everyone else's begin.


Maybe all you soldiers who are screaming at people for stomping on your Chinese made flag telling us how you are protecting our freedom and deserve respect; should come actually protect our freedom and take all these corrupt, evil, treasonous bastards out.


right on!
you got that right ....

J Mennen

Ann Williams has it right. So many are happy to have controls of their movement and activities. Being stopped by checkpoints for no reason other than harassment of motorists is fine with these people. Checkpoints stop everyone even if no traffic laws are broken. Are these same people okay with controlling non-motorized vehicles from traveling state or county roads? If a sober bicyclist is detained and interrogated by the police, that would be okay with these checkpoint lovers.

Ann Williams

Thank you. Someone spouted bogus "ant-drunk driving" statistics that Ralph Nader debunked in the 60's fabricated data used to continue the program. Traffic laws are written by insurance companies to benefit themselves and for government revenue. Speeding hurts no one and until someone is actually injured, no action stands legally. Our legal system does not label people criminals when no crime has occurred. It's the morons who don't know what the definition of a crime is that are the cause of most oppression. I had a flat tire in 2012 and 2 hours later was arrested for DUI and my license has been suspended for 3 years. At 48 years old, I have never had an accident, never been arrested and now I am looking at felony status. Naturally, I was immediately fired from a 10 year career and have been forced to defaulted on all of my debt. THIS is what traffic laws are meant to do, keep competition for professional high paying positions at a minimum. It has nothing to do with safety at all.


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