ACLU Urges Virginia Legislators Not To Put Radio Computer Chip in Driver's Licenses

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
October 6, 2004 12:00 am

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Virginia is First in Nation to Consider Putting RFIDs in Licenses

NEW YORK-The American Civil Liberties Union today urged Virginia not to become the first state in the nation to place radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in its driver’s licenses.

“Until now, the controversy over RFID tags has focused on Wal-Mart and other retail applications,” said Chris Calabrese, Program Counsel of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “But this is the first proposal we’ve seen to include RFIDs in driver’s licenses. That brings the potential intrusion of this technology to a whole new level.”

Calabrese testified before a panel of Virginia legislators that is considering whether to recommend the technology’s adoption in the state’s driver’s licenses. RFID tags are computer chips attached to tiny antennae that are capable of broadcasting their data wirelessly to anyone with a RFID reader. They are currently used for “contactless” applications such as toll-booth speed passes.

“Almost everyone carries a driver’s license, and RFID chips allow people to be tracked,” said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “This proposal would allow anyone to set up an RFID reader to capture the identities and personal information of every person who comes within range,” added Willis. “FBI agents, for example, could sweep up the identities of everyone at a political meeting, protest march, gun show, or Islamic prayer service.”

Calabrese told the legislators that even aside from privacy issues, adoption of RFID chips would bring a number of unresolved security problems, require construction of a costly infrastructure for reading the chips, and would not likely be effective in improving the security of driver’s licenses.

“Installing these chips in driver’s licenses would be a grave mistake,” Calabrese told the legislators. “It would be a costly proposition that involves significant technological hurdles, and has little practical value. It is also likely to make Virginia drivers both less safe and less free.”

Already, the federal government is working to include RFID tags in passports, and, at the direction of President Bush the National Institute for Standards and Technology is working on a standard for a federal employee identification card that would also include the radio chips.

Calabrese’s testimony is available online at /node/21104.

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