Group objects to driver's license RFID

A coalition of conservative groups and privacy advocates is urging the Homeland Security Department not to include the use of Radio Frequency Identification contactless chips in its regulations for implementing the Real ID Act for state drivers licenses.

In a Jan. 13 letter to Secretary Michael Chertoff, the groups assert that RFID costs a lot, lacks standardized technology and poses potential dangers to privacy from unauthorized reading of the chips. The RFID chips contain tiny processors that transmit information by radio wave to a reader.

"An exact tally of the potential costs of RFID technology is hard to come by, but there is no question it would be expensive," wrote the coalition, which includes Citizens Against Government Waste and the American Civil Liberties Union. "Aside from the cost issue, we are concerned about the lack of adequate protections against the theft of personal information arising from remote-sensing devices."

Congress approved the Real ID Act last year to require states to tighten standards for drivers licenses and to deploy machine-readable technologies and to use biometrics, such as fingerprints, to verify identity. DHS is expected to release guidelines soon on which machine-readable technologies?including magnetic strips, barcodes or RFID chips?must be used to meet Real ID Act standards.

While the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of implementing the Real ID Act at $100 million, Citizens Against Government Waste judged that an RFID chip mandate as part of the act would cost up to $17 billion. State officials have developed their own estimates as well. For example, Washington State officials said in October 2005 they expect to spend $150 million over three years to comply with the act.

Other groups signing the letter include the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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