Archive for the ‘RFID’ Category

California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

California’s legislature is considering a bill to authorize adding radio tracking beacons to drivers licenses and state non-driver ID cards.

Each such card would broadcast a unique tracking number which could legally be intercepted by anyone with a suitable radio transceiver within range, and which would be linked to a national DHS database of drivers license, state ID card, and citizenship information.

The tracking beacons are designed to allow the tracking numbers on ID cards carried by travelers in motor vehicles to be read from outside their vehicles as they approach or pass through checkpoints.

Independent academic studies of actual ID cards issued by other states, using the same standards proposed for use in California, have found that they can sometimes be read from more than 50 yards away.

S.B. 397 has already been approved by the California Senate, and is now under consideration in the Assembly. Because it has been amended by the Assembly, it will need to be reconsidered by the Senate (to decide whether to accept the Assembly amendments) if and when it is approved by the Assembly.

To date, S.B. 397 has been largely unopposed in the California legislature, and it is likely to be approved unless legislators start hearing a groundswell of opposition from their constituents.

What excuse is being offered for this scheme? And what’s its real purpose?

(more…)

Residents near music festival “required” to wear RFID armbands

Friday, April 26th, 2013

The L.A. Times has reported that people who live anywhere within a mile of the site of the Coachella Valley Music Festival in Indio, California (and perhaps residents’ visitors, if any visitors were allowed?) were “required” to wear individually numbered RFID-chipped tracking bracelets throughout the two weekends of the festival:

In 2011, the organization began using microchip-embedded wristbands….

No one can so much as get within a mile of the Empire Polo Field, where Coachella is held, without wearing one. Local residents, whose homes surround the polo field, also have to wear one just to get to their houses, and Guitron said homeowners must also register their cars….

Guitron said it created a safe perimeter for the event, where every concertgoer and resident can be identified via a microchip.

It’s not clear by whom, or by what authority, nearby residents or their guests and visitors could be “required” to wear devices each of which transmit a unique tracking ID number any time it is requested by private parties.

The festival Website explains the “requirements”, but says nothing about their legal basis:

  • “Police check points will vary from one quarter mile to one mile outside of the festival perimeter. Please have your wristbands properly applied on your wrist prior to your departure to the festival.”
  • “You cannot pass through the police vehicle checkpoints without your wristband properly applied on your wrist….”
  • “You cannot walk or bike to the festival site without a wristband properly applied on your wrist.”

According to a trade-journal review of the system being used at Coachella and some other festivals and events:

For organisers, a major benefit is receiving real-time statistics detailing how many people are in each designated area of the site at any time…. “RFID technology is ideal for an exhibition environment, or at any event where customer relationships, outreach and sales leads are sought.”… [T]he RFID micro-chips are linked to an individual ticket-holder’s information.

Will we see controls and RFID person and vehicle tracking requirements like this next year on Patriots Day for everyone who lives, works, shops, visits, attends political meetings or religious services, or passes through the area within one mile of the Boston Marathon route?

We’d be interested to hear from anyone who lives in the area in Indio in where RFID bracelets were “required”.

DHS Scrooge says U.S. citizen can’t come home for the holidays to see his ailing mother

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

In the latest episode in the increasingly bizarre but all too real saga of standardless secret administrative no-fly orders from the DHS to airlines, prohibiting the transportation back to their home country of US citizens,  Oklahoma native Saadiq Long is being prevented from returning home to the US to spend the holiday season with his terminally ill mother.

Long is a US citizen and an honorably discharged veteran of the US Air Force, never charged with any crime in the US or any other country, who has been living and working as an English teacher in Qatar for the last several years.  He’s also a convert to Islam, which shouldn’t be relevant but probably is.

When he learned of his mother’s illness back home in Oklahoma, he made reservations and bought tickets from KLM for flights from Qatar to the US for what might be a last visit with his mother.

Less than 24 hours before his scheduled departure from Qatar in May, KLM told Mr. Long that the airline (and all others serving the US) had been forbidden from allowing him to board any flight to the US.

Mr. Long has been trying ever since to find out why the government of his country has forbidden all airlines from transporting him, or to find a way to get those orders rescinded. But to date, the DHS has maintained its position that it will neither confirm nor deny whether it has issued any no-fly orders with respect to any specific person, much less the basis (if any) for such orders.

KLM explicitly informed Mr. Long that it had received a no-fly order from the DHS. So in theory, KLM would be required by Dutch data protection law to disclose that order to Mr. Long on request. That wouldn’t tell Mr. Long why he had been banned form returning to his country (the DHS probably didn’t share the reasons for its order with the airline), but would prevent the DHS from claiming in court that whether Mr. Long has been prohibited form flying is a state secret.

Given KLM’s poor track record when individuals have requested KLM’s records of its communications with governments, and the Dutch data protection authority’s poor track record of enforcing the law, it’s hard to predict whether KLM would comply with a request from Mr. Long for all orders or communications pertaining to him between KLM and the US government.

Mr. Long is being assisted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has led the struggle for judicial review of no-fly orders. CAIR staff attorney Gadeir Abbas, the leading advocate for US citizens exiled by no-fly orders, told Glenn Greenwald that, “Every few weeks I hear of another Muslim citizen who cannot return to the country of which he is a citizen.”

[Update: Mr. Long was again denied boarding by KLM in Qatar on November 8, 2012.]

Comments on passport fee increases re-opened through April 8

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

While cancelling its plans for a public hearing in response to the outcry against its plans to increase fees to travelers to pay for the RFID chips in passports, the State Department has re-opened the public comment period on the proposal through next Thursday, April 8th.

An uninformative supplemental notice (PDF) was published in the Federal Register on  March 24, 2010, with a new docket number (DOS-2010-0037) so that people searching or monitoring the original docket wouldn’t know that comments have been re-opened.

You can submit comments by e-mail to fees@state.gov with “RIN 1400-AC57 and 1400-AC58″ in the subject line until 5 p.m. Washington time on Thursday, April 8, 2010.  You can use our comments (also available in OpenOffice .odt and MS-Office .doc formats) as a model if you need ideas for what to say.

The supplemental notice claims that comments can also be submitted through the Regulations.gov Web site, but because the notice wasn’t linked to the original docket and was mis-categorized as “non-rulemaking”, that isn’t currently possible.

[Update: Not surprisingly, in light of the problems with the online docket, few additional comments were submitted. The most significant are from United Airlines and the U.S. Travel Association, calling for the State Dept. to suspend the rulemaking until it discloses the cost basis for the proposed fee increases, holds a public meeting to explain them, and provided a new notice and comment period.]

State Dept. backs away from public hearing on passport fees

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

As we noted earlier this month, the State Department told United Airlines that they planned to hold “a public meeting sometime in April or May of 2010” to explain the cost basis of their proposal to increase fees for passports, visas, and other international travel permissions and credentials.

We contacted the State Department as soon as we read this in United’s comments, to try to find out when and where the meeting would be.  At first, a State Department spokesperson said they had “no knowledge of any meeting being organized”.  After we pointed out the statement in United’s comments, they backpedaled, and told us they were “working out the details on whether there will be a public meeting”.  Then this week they  admitted that there had been a plan for a public meeting, but there no longer is. Instead, they now say the State Deaprtment will publish a new notice in the Federal Register next week (probably in this docket folder), with more background on the  ”Cost of Service Study”, and re-open public comments for an additional 15 days.

We take it as a sign that the State Department has gotten the message:  So many people oppose this scheme to charge us more for an improper prerequisite to the exercise of our right to travel that the agency responsible for the proposal realizes that any public hearing would provide a forum for the opposition.

The good news is that if you missed the original comment period, you’ll get a second chance.   Comments are currently closed, but get them ready to send as soon as the window re-opens next week.  You can use our comments (also available in OpenOffice .odt and MS-Office .doc formats) as a model if you need ideas for what to say.

[Update: An uninformative supplemental notice (PDF) was published in the Federal Register on  March 24, 2010, with a new docket number (DOS-2010-0037) so that people searching the original docket wouldn't know that comments have been re-opened.  You can submit comments by e-mail to fees@state.gov with "RIN 1400-AC57 and 1400-AC58" in the subject line until 5 p.m. Washington time on Thursday, April 8, 2010.  The supplemental notice claims that comments can be submitted through the Regulations.gov Web site, but because the notice wasn't linked to the original docket and was mis-categorized as "non-rulemaking", that isn't currently possible.  In the most important of the follow-up comments, which wasn't posted to the online docket until a month after it was filed, United Airlines and the U.S. Travel Association jointly argue that the State Department still hasn't provided sufficient information to allow the public to judge whether the fee increases are justified.]

Airlines, travel agencies, Congress join public outcry against passport fees

Friday, March 12th, 2010

We don’t think it’s fair or legal for the government to charge you a fee to exercise your rights under the First Amendment and international human rights treaties to enter or leave the USA.  Those rights are all but absolute, and rules that restrict or burden them, such as by imposing fees, are subject to strict scrutiny.

Judging from the response to the government’s latest proposal to increase passport fees (in order to cover the increased costs of including a uniquely-numbered remotely-readable RFID chip in each passport), we aren’t alone in our views.

More than a thousand people filed comments with the Department of State by yesterday’s deadline to oppose the proposed passport fee increases.  In addition to the comments filed by individual citizens and travelers and by the Identity Project, Consumer Travel Alliance, and Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, comments objecting to the proposed fee increases were filed by United Airlines, the American Society of Travel Agents, and the Interactive Travel Services Association.  United Airlines told the State Department, as we did, that the proposed rules would violate the Administrative Procedure Act, and demanded that the Department reveal the cost analysis that they claim supports the fee increases and extend the comment period for responses to it before finalizing any fee increase. ASTA (which represents brick-and-mortar travel agencies) and ITSA (which represents online travel agencies), have generally been at each other’s throats; we’re not sure we’ve ever seen them file joint comments in a Federal rulemaking.  The overall picture painted by the industry comments is of the extent to which the proposed fee increases would, in fact, impose a meaningful burden on international travel.

Members of Congress, particularly from border districts, have also objected, with Rep. Chris Lee of New York writing to Secretary of State Clinton that the fee increase would “further burden American travelers,” and fellow Rep. Brian Higgins, also from upstate New York (along the busiest sector of the Canadian border), issuing a statement that, “Creating financial barriers to the international traffic flow will cost our national economy and this community greatly in the long run.”

According to its filing, “Given its questions, and the importance of access to fairly priced travel documents to support international travel, United has sought a copy of or further details on the CoSS [Cost of Service Study] on March 9, 2010. United was advised that the CoSS is not a study or a report, but rather a model which the Department plans to demonstrate during a public meeting sometime in April or May of 2010.”

We’ll keep you posted of any announcement we hear of an extension of the comment period or a public hearing on the proposal to raise passport fees to pay for RFID chips in passports.

U.S. raising fees for travel credentials and permissions

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Under a series of new laws and regulatory proposals, almost everyone traveling internationally to or from the USA — US passport holders, visa-free foreign visitors, and foreigners with visas — would have to pay more in government fees for the required credentials and/or permissions.

This week the U.S. Senate passed the “Travel Promotion Act”, a bill designed to encourage foreigners to visit the USA … by making it more expensive for them to do so.

The money would go for advertising, presumably to try to persuade foreigners that the USA is worth the price and the hassle. This ignores the fact that people around the world already want to visit the USA, and don’t need to be told that. What’s standing in the way of more foreigners spending their money in the USA are the xenophobic rules and procedures that make it so difficult and expensive to get permission to travel to the USA — not lack of desire to take the family on a vacation to Disney World or Las Vegas, or a shopping junket to New York or Miami.

The Travel Promotion Act, previously passed by the House and thus now headed to the White House to be signed into law, will add a US$10 fee (good for an unlimited number of visits in a 2-year period from the date it is paid) to the price of obtaining “pre-approval” to travel to the USA through the “Electronic System for Travel Authorization” (ESTA) .

ESTA pre-approval doesn’t guarantee that you will be admitted to the USA, but is required as a de facto exit visa before the USA considers you authorized to depart from your home country for the USA. No, the USA has no authority to impose an exit permit requirement on departure from other countries, as the Identity Project argued in comments to the DHS when the scheme was proposed, but the legality of the ESTA was never brought up in Congressional debate on the Travel Promotion Act.

ESTA pre-approval is required for all those “intending” to enter the USA without a visa under the “Visa Waiver Program” (VWP). Outside of the VWP, which is limited to a short list of mostly-wealthy most-favored nations, most of them populated mostly by white-skinned people, everyone else except US and Canadian citizens and US permanent residents (green-card holders) needs a visa even to change planes in the USA, which costs a minimum of about US$200 depending on the type of visa.

Those fees for US visas would increase substantially under a pending regulatory proposal from the State Department, which would also increase the fees for issuance or renewal of US passports.

The proposed rule published in the Federal Register earlier this month would increase the total price of a new or renewal US passport from US$100 to US$135. Part of that is an increase in the “Security Surcharge” for each passport to US$40, which presumably reflects the additional cost of including a remotely-readable uniquely-numbered RFID chip in each passport.

The State Department is accepting public comments through 10 March 2010 through the Regulations.gov Web site or by e-mail to fees@state.gov. (You must include the docket number, “RIN 1400-AC58″ in the subject line of your e-mail message.) This would be a good chance to tell the Obama Administration that they wouldn’t need the proposed passport fee increase if they reconsidered and rescinded the requirement for RFID chips in passports.

Frequent international travelers with US passports will also get socked. Adding pages to a passport that has filled up with visa and entry and exit stamps, previously free, will now cost US$82. Ouch! That’s particularly unfair to those who requested a passport with extra pages, but didn’t get one, since the passport application form still doesn’t include any place to indicate that you want a thicker passport book (48 or 96 pages instead of the standard 24). If you are submitting comments to the State Department, please include a request that they put check-boxes on the application form to indicate a request for a 48 or 96-page passport.

Interestingly, despite the other ostensibly cost-based fee increases the State Department admits that they are deliberately keeping the cost of a passport card, which has a much longer-range RFID chip than a standard passport book, dramatically below cost, in effect giving travelers a large financial incentive to carry a credential with a longer-range tracking beacon.

And lest Canadians feel left out (they are essentially the only nationality that doesn’t need either a US passport, a US visa, or ESTA pre-approval to travel to the USA, and thus escapes these US fee increases), this week Canada’s Transport Minister announced increases in security fees that will be added to all air tickets for departures from Canadian airports, both domestic and international. Why the higher fees? To pay for more virtual strip-search machines (”body scanners”).

Enjoy your trip, and come back and visit us again soon!

[Comments filed by the Identity Project, Consumer Travel Alliance, Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, and John Gilmore, which you can use as a template for your own comments; also available in Open Office .odt and MS-Office .doc formats.]

Courts and Congress finally start to rein in the TSA

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Until recently, the TSA has been a domestic legal Guantanamo, and the TSA has treated their domain of “checkpoints” and travel control and surveillance as a law-free zone where their powers of search, seizure, detention, and denial of passage were unconstrained by the Constitution, human rights treaties, judicial review, or stautory or regulatory standards.  As indeed it has been: Congress has enacted no law specifically defining any limits on the authority of TSA agents at checkpoints (or elsewhere), and the TSA itself has never conducted any rulemaking or issued any publicly-disclosed regulations defining its authority, the limits of that authority, what orders travellers do or don’t have to comply with, and which forms of “noncooperation” are considered grounds for which sanctions (more intrusive search, denial of transportation, admninistrative fine, detention, etc.). While the TSA has never been explicitly exempted from the Constitution or treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the DHS has sought to avoid ever allowing judicial review of fly/no-fly decisions, and the courts themselves have gone out of their way to avoid ruling on the legality of TSA actions — such as when the 9th Circuit invented a counter-factual claim (without ever allowing an evidentiary hearing on the facts) that John Gilmore hadn’t actually been required to show ID credentials in order to fly, as a way to avoid ruling on whether an ID-to-fly requirement would be Constitutional. As for the Executive, President Obama has yet to nominate an Administrator of the TSA, leaving this one of the highest-ranking vacancies in the Administration and leaving the TSA operating on autopilot under lame-duck holdovers.

In the absence of any explicit rules or any judicial, legislative, or executive oversight, the TSA has felt no need to seek authority for its ever-expanding assertions of authority through legislation or rulemaking.  Nor has the TSA recognized any duty of self-restraint or self-policing to ensure its actions conform to the law. Instead, the TSA has simply wielded its power to do whatever it wished, on the disgraceful assumption that, “If we’re doing something wrong, the courts will tell us — if and when someone can afford to sue us, and they win a court judgement against us.”  In the meantime, the TSA will do, and claim the right to do, anything that hasn’t already specifically been ruled illegal. Kind of like the thief who assumes that they can steal whatever they want, and that if something turns out not be theirs, they’ll give it back if and when someone sues and wins a court judgement ordering its return.

Time and again we’ve pointed out this failure to subject the TSA to the rule of law. See, for example, our most recent prior post on this topic, our agenda on the right to travel submitted to the Obama Administration and Congress after the 2008 elections, and our comments earlier this month at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference session with Obama Administration representatives and others at 1:45:53 of this video.  Until recently, however, neither the Courts, the Congress, nor the Executive branch have wanted to confront the question of what rules govern the TSA.

We’re please to report that this is finally beginiing to change, in small ways but on numerous fronts:

(more…)

Today we’re all prisoners in the USA

Monday, June 1st, 2009

As of today, June 1, 2009, even U.S. citizens are officially prisoners in the USA, or exiles barred from entering our own country without the government’s permission.

We are now forbidden by Federal regulations from leaving or entering the USA, anywhere, by any means — by air, by sea, or by land, to or from any other country or international waters or airspace — unless the government chooses to issue us a passport, passport card, or “enhanced” drivers license (any of which “travel documents” are now issued only with secretly and remotely-readable uniquely-numbered radio tracking beacons in the form of RFID transponder chips), or unless the Department of Homeland Security chooses to to exercise its standardless “discretion” to decide — in secret, with no way for us to know who is making the decision or on what basis — to issue a (one-time case-by-case) “waiver” of the new travel document requirements.

If you’re in the USA without such documents — even if you were born here, or are a foreigner who entered the USA legally without such documents (a Canadian, for example, who entered the USA by land yesterday when no such documents were yet required), or your document(s) have expired or have been lost or stolen — you are forbidden to leave the country unless and until you procure such a document, or unless and until the DHS gives you an exit permit in the form of a discretionary one-time waiver to leave the country — but not necessarily to come home, unless they again exercise their discretion to “grant” you another waiver.

If you are a U.S. citizen abroad without such a document (for example, if you entered Canada legally without it yesterday by land, when it wasn’t required, or again if your document(s) are expired, lost, or stolen) you are forbidden to come home unless and until you can procure a new document acceptable to the DHS, or unless and until the DHS gives you permission to come home in the form of a discretionary one-time waiver. (more…)

Air France puts digital fingerprints in RFID boarding passes

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Yesterday (just in time for tomorrow’s planned strike by French air traffic controllers, which is expected to force the cancellation of many of their flights), Air France began a public beta test of what they are calling a “smartboarding” card, as depicted in this video (and third-party videos in English and another in French) and photos and as described in this press release:

This new system is a world first. With a personal card which contains the latest biometric technology (encrypted fingerprints), RFID (radio frequency identification) and thermal printing (the back of the card can be reused up to 500 times), these passengers will be able to board through a dedicated portal whenever they choose.

Developed together with Citizengate, the smartboarding® service has 4 stages:

1. In a special office at the airport (Paris-Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2F), customers can obtain their personal smartboarding® card in just a few minutes which is immediately operational. During registration, all the customer’s identity information (surname, first name, Flying Blue membership number), as well as their encrypted fingerprints is transmitted to the smart card. This registration stage is only carried out once and no files are kept by Air France.

(more…)