Sep 29 2008

New York Begins Issuing RFID-Enabled “Enhanced” Driver’s Licenses

The state of New York has begun issuing (pdf) so-called “enhanced” driver’s licenses (or EDLs). These licenses contain RFID tags and include the individual’s citizenship status on the face of the cards. They are issued under the Department of Homeland Security’s “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” and will be used as alternatives to passports for crossing the US border.

According to DHS, the “long-range” RFID tag would include a unique number that Customs and Border Protection would “read” as you drove up to the checkpoint and use that unique number to link to your individual name and file. (Such long-range tags can be read from a distance of 70 feet or more.) There are numerous privacy and civil liberty problems connected with using RFID tags in identification documents. Some EDL critics would surprise you: the RFID industry, the Government Accountability Office, and the DHS’s own Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.

The DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee urged (pdf) that long-range RFID only be used in ID documents if RFID is the “least intrusive means,” because there are significant privacy and security drawbacks.

The Government Accountability Office also has urged (pdf) against the use of RFID to track people, testifying that: Read More

Sep 23 2008

How to Circumvent the Watch Lists: Change Your Name

The CBC has an interesting story that exemplifies a significant problem with the watch lists: It is very easy to get around the lists.

Mario Labbé, an executive with a Montreal-based record company, says his Canadian passport triggers a red alert on the computers of U.S. customs agents every time he tries to board a flight to the U.S. —
which is about once a month for the past seven years. […]

Although Labbé wrote letters to the U.S. department, his efforts were in vain, prompting him to legally change his name.

“So now, my official name is François Mario Labbé,” he said.

“Then you have to change everything: driver’s license, social insurance, medicare, credit card — everything.”

Although it’s not a big change from Mario Labbé, he said it’s been enough to foil the U.S. customs computers.

In the US, there have been other examples of innocent people trying to work around the terrorist watch lists. For example, eight-year-old James Robinson has had numerous problems because he is continuing mismatch to the watch lists. His family has had to make changes in order to get eight-year-old James on to flights.

According to CNN, “Denise Robinson says she tells the skycaps her son is on the list, tips heavily and is given boarding passes. And booking her son as “J. Pierce Robinson” also has let the family bypass the watch list hassle.

The ease with which someone can circumvent the watch lists illustrates the utter futility of identity-based security programs as a whole. Rather than waste time and money, and needlessly sacrifice liberty in the process of conducting this security theater, TSA should concentrate more on its job of preventing weapons and explosives from getting on planes.

Sep 15 2008

Government Claims Secure Flight Will Save Us From Watchlist Horrors

Once launched, passenger prescreening program Secure Flight will solve the problems of mismatching innocent individuals to the terrorist watchlists, according to government witnesses at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security said that Secretary Chertoff has approved Secure Flight. DHS is awaiting approval from the Government Accountability Office before it can implement the passenger prescreening program. The GAO’s review will not be completed until December 10, according to the GAO’s Cathleen Berrick. Currently, the GAO is awaiting DHS estimates for costs and timelines of implementation.

“According to TSA officials, the “initial cutover” or assumption of the watch-list matching function from one or more air carriers for domestic flights is scheduled to begin in January 2009. However, as of July 2008, TSA had not developed detailed plans or time frames for assuming watch-list matching from all air carriers for domestic flights,” Berrick said (pdf).

TSA’s Kip Hawley said Secure Flight will cost the government about $1 billion to implement over 10 years, but he did not have an estimate for how much it will cost the airline industry. However, Berrick said that these numbers were not applicable for the latest iteration of Secure Flight.

In a statement (pdf) submitted for the hearing record, The Identity Project urged the Committee “to scrutinize closely the watchlists, their uses, and the processes of and reasons for the addition of names.” The Identity Project detailed the many problems associated with the watchlists. For example, “a nun, Senator Ted Kennedy, and former presidential candidate John Anderson have all been wrongly deemed suspects. Several innocent individuals have filed lawsuits in order try to stop the harassment they received when they attempt to fly commercially, including a licensed commercial pilot.” Read More