Aug 22 2013

California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons

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?

Not surprisingly, the impetus for this proposal comes not from California but from the Feds (and, of course, their partners and profiteers in dataveillance).

As part of the so-called “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” (which we have objected to as uncontitutional and in violation of U.S. obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), the Department of State and the Deaprtment of Homeland Security promulgated regulations in 2006 (air and sea travel) and 2007 (land travel) requiring U.S. citizens to show passports to cross the U.S. border to or form Canada or Mexico — unless they had a new type of “Enhanced Drivers License” (EDL) or “enhanced” non-driver state ID card with a long-range RFID tracking transeiver.

EDLs would be offered by states, in cooperation with DHS, as an added-cost alternative to a regular drivers license that could also be used as a border crosssing card.

The idea was that an EDL would be cheaper than a U.S. passport, and that the price differential would motivate Canadian and Mexican border states to collaborate with DHS in issuing these RFID cards and motivate frequent border crossers to acquiesce in their use for tracking their movements.

New York began issuing EDLs in 2007, and DHS began deploying RFID readers at border crossings in 2008.  The largest other Canadian border states — Michigan and Washington — have since followed suit, along with Vermont (where Montreal is the nearest large city for most of the state).

But none of the U.S. states bordering Mexico has agreed to issue EDLs — yet.

Neither Califonia legislators nor Califonia residents should be distracted by the vaunted “convenience” of an EDL that can be used both for driving (and/or other state purposes) and crossing the border.

As a U.S. citizen, you have the right to leave the country, and to return. That right does not depend on your paying a fee or applying for, or receiving, any government credentials or permission.

What really distinguishes an EDL are the ways it can function as a surveillance device:

Before any state can issue an EDL, it must collect and forward to the DHS, for inclusion in a national database, the card holder’s personal details including their photograph.  And each EDL broadcasts a unique RFID chip number that serves as a pointer to the record about the cardholder in this database.

So while an EDL looks like a “state” ID, it is fundamentally a national ID card — something Americans have consistently (and rightly) opposed — and an enabler of tracking and logging of cardholders’ movements.

Logs of citizens’ border crossings and movements through non-border checkpoints are obviously of interest to the Feds and their state and local law enforcement partners, especially in conjunction with logs of vehicle movements obtained from automated license-plate readers.

Cops don’t need to ask, “Can I see some ID?” when, from outside your vehicle, they can obtain the EDL chip number and corresponding lifetime DHS travel history of every occupant of the vehicle.

And as more people carry EDLs, how soon will not broadcasting your ID number be deemed sufficiently suspicious to justify detention, search, or interrogation?

Drive-by EDL surveillance won’t be lmited to the government. No current state or Federal law places any restrictions on private reading of RFID chips, including reading of the unique ID numbers on EDLs and use or sale of these records. What business wouldn’t want to be able to identify regular customers as soon as they drive into the parking lot? If you show your EDL as proof of age to buy alcohol, the liquor store can legally scan your EDL, read the RFID chip number, and sell this information to a data aggregator who compiles a lookup table of chip numbers, corresponding name, age, and address information, and transaction and location history.

Even without access to either government (DHS and state) or commercial look-up tables linking the unencryped unique chip ID numbers to additional personal information, anyone who gets close enough to you to read the chip in your EDL can use it to track you wherever you go, even form outside your vehicle, as long as you are carrying your EDL unshielded. This functionality will be especially useful to stalkers and paparazzi, among others.

You can keep an EDL in a foil sleeve to make it harder to read at a distance, but in practice people have to show their drivers licenses often enough that few will bother.  A passport, on the other hand, has an RFID chip with a read range at least an order of magnitude, perhaps two, smaller than that of an EDL. And since a passport is less often used for anything other than crossing borders, it’s less of a nuisance to keep it shielded at other times than to always keep your drivers license shielded.

Long-range radio tracking and a national ID database are surveillance, not convenience features, entirely unnecessary for a “border crossing” credentiaL These are features, not bugs, of the EDL scheme. And they deserve a resounding “No” from California’s legislature and citizenry.

18 thoughts on “California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons

  1. Pingback: California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons |

  2. I am appalled that there is not a HUGE cry of opposition to this. However, you have educated me about the problem without giving me a specific action to take to stop this (other than to donate to your organization). I think encouragement to contact one’s legislators would be a good addition to this article.

  3. Just keep a double folded sheet of aluminum foil in your wallet along with your greenbacks. This works best if you have a tri-fold wallet. It will also keep the crooks from reading your bank cards as well.

  4. Can’t these RFID embedded devices be destroyed by placing the drivers licenses in a microwave for a minute or so?

  5. You only need 10 seconds or so in the microwave, and no evidence will be left behind, but the RFID will be gone forever (I guess it just failed? – must be made in China)

  6. I read the bill and it sounds like the Enhanced Drivers Licence is VOLUNTARY (at least for now). I don’t have a problem with that as long as it STAYS voluntary. In fact employers under the proposed bill, it would be illegal for employers to force employees to apply for or acquire a EDL.

  7. Pingback: California Abruptly Drops Plan to Implant RFID Chips in Driver’s Licenses |

  8. Pingback: Blue Note Tech Blog » California Abruptly Drops Plan to Implant RFID Chips in Driver’s Licenses

  9. Pingback: California Suddenly Abandons License Chipping

  10. Unfortunately, the bill isn’t yet dead. The Appropriations Committee of the California Assembly has voted to place S.B. 397 in its suspense file. This is similar in effect to “tabling” the bill. The bill is no longer under active consideration, but could be taken up again later in the session, with little debate:

    “Another unique feature of the Appropriations Committee is the Suspense File, to which the committee sends any bill with an annual cost of more than $150,000 (any fund). Suspense File bills are then considered at one hearing after the state budget has been prepared and the committee has a better sense of available revenue. No testimony is presented – author or witness – at the Suspense File hearing.”

  11. Pingback: California Abruptly Drops Plan to Implant RFID Chips in Driver’s Licenses | Pakalert Press

  12. Pingback: California Abruptly Drops Plan to Implant RFID Chips in Driver’s Licenses | A Nation In Peril

  13. Pingback: California Abruptly Drops Plan to Implant RFID Chips in Driver’s Licenses | lisaleaks

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