DHS modifies position on radio frequency ID

A technology advisory panel to the Homeland Security Department has toned down its objections to radio frequency identification in the latest version of its report on the subject.

The report, "The Uses of RFID for Human Identification," was revised at the Dec. 6 meeting of the Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee, which is part of the Data Privacy and Integrity Committee that advises the department.

The revised version is now being reviewed by Secretary Michael Chertoff, a DHS spokeswoman said.

The new Version 3.4a states that if DHS selects RFID systems as the best available technologies to identify individuals, then privacy and information security must be built into the system in the design stage.

"We recommend that if the Department, after careful consideration of all technologies and analysis of the least intrusive means to achieve department objectives, determines to deploy an RFID-enabled system to identify individuals, that it build in, in the design stage, sufficient privacy and security safeguards," the revised report states.

The draft version of the report contained similar wording, but also included stronger language suggesting that RFID was generally inappropriate for identification cards. "We recommend that RFID be disfavored for identifying and tracking human beings," Version 1.0 stated. That language is not included in the new version.

The draft version was criticized by the American Electronics Association, an industry group, for allegedly making broad generalizations without enough evidence.

RFID chips are computer chips that can store data that can be accessed remotely by a reader. Studies by the Government Accountability Office and other organizations have raised concerns about privacy because there is the possibility of data being skimmed by an unauthorized reader.

A version of RFID is being used by the State Department in passports. Another type of RFID, which can be read at long distances of more than 30 feet, is expected to be used in new "Pass" identification cards to be issued by DHS for frequent border crossers under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

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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