Group knocks DHS advisory panel's stance on RFID for human identification

An internal advisory group within the Homeland Security Department is making incorrect generalizations about radio frequency identification technology and has offered no scientific evidence to back up its claims, an IT industry trade group charged Wednesday.

The American Electronics Association, a trade association representing 2,700 companies, issued a statement objecting to a draft report on RFID for human identification issued earlier this month by DHS' Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee. The subcommittee is part of the Data Privacy and Integrity Committee, which advises the department.

RFID tags are tiny computer chips that can transmit data, and allow data to be read, remotely. The subcommittee's draft report said RFID might be appropriate for human identification in very limited situations, such as for tracking miners and firefighters. But in general, it recommended that "RFID be disfavored for identifying and tracking human beings."

The high-tech executives group disapproved of the draft report findings and what they termed a lack of evidence in the report.

"There are many sweeping, unsubstantiated and incorrect generalizations made (about RFID) without pointing to scientific data, field tests or published reports," stated the electronics association in a statement.

"Because the Draft Report disparages RFID technology without citing quantitative data, generalizes RFID technology and its applications, and arrives at conclusions not substantiated by fact, the Department may not arrive at the proper conclusions for protecting America's security," the electronics group said.

A shortcoming of the draft report, for example, is its generic definition of RFID that does not specify the differences in various types of RFID, the electronics association said. For example, RFID chips to be used on U.S. passports are protected by encryption and access controls. On the other hand, ultra-high-frequency RFID is designed for tracking items in a warehouse.

On May 19, the Smart Card Alliance, a trade group, representing makers of biometric smart cards, most of which use RFID, also issued a statement disagreeing with the subcommittee's draft report.

"We believe that the report defines RFID too broadly and, therefore, this recommendation will unduly restrict appropriate and secure applications of smart cards with [radio frequency] technology that can meet the strictest privacy and security requirements," the alliance said in a statement.

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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