By on September 16, 2008

What is this, paranoid Tuesday? Hot on the heels of our story about the UK’s massive motorist surveillance system comes a tale of Empire State driver’s licenses that emit a radio signal that tells the authorities who you are. Yes, the same micro-technology designed to keep track of inventory, RFID, can now keep track of your ass. As the AP [via the Berkshire Eagle] reports, the “enhanced” licenses are codenamed EDL or Electronic Drivers License. They are– in theory– all about convenience. You file a shitload of paperwork, pay an extra $30, get the RFID license and sail through Canadian and Mexican customs (international travel still requires a passport). What me worry? “To answer concerns about the ability of hackers to intercept RFID information from the new licenses, the state is mailing each one with a protective storage sleeve that prevents transmission, said DMV spokesman Ken Brown — who stressed that the only information contained in the tag is a number that would be meaningless except to Homeland Security agents and clever terrorists/criminals.”

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25 Comments on “NY Offers RFID Driver’s Licenses...”


  • avatar
    Carzzi

    One more reason I will not be moving to the authoritarian state of NY. Don’t get me wrong, I love the topography… I shall be visiting the wonderfully verdant Binghamton in October :-)

  • avatar
    menno

    Doesn’t matter what state you are in, you’ll be getting one of these very very soon.

    Here’s a photo of Amerika’s future:

    http://www.tridentmilitary.com/EG-Uniforms.htm

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Let’s be realistic, an RFID chip in your wallet lying in between your ass and a car seat is NOT going to be readable by any outside equipment anyway. The only point of this is to make a drivers license card that’s more complicated to counterfeit.

    By the same token, you don’t have to worry about hackers unless maybe one is 4 feet away from you, in which case you can kick his butt (they’re skinny geeks after all).

  • avatar
    menno

    Kevin, I would have believed the same as you but a few years ago, I got a call at work from a guy trying to sell my employer RFID chips “which aren’t nearly as good as military ones” but which he stated, were the size of a rice kernel, and which “suitable equipment” could read from highway overpasses or even farther away.

    So I’d have to say, did someone get our calendar wrong and accidentally add 24 years?

  • avatar
    dmk1976

    From what I am told you can microwave your license for a short peroid of time and fry the chip, not that I am suggesting we destroy state property.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    These issues are the exact some issues that are being brought up with the new RFID enabled passports. Read this article about the problems with RFID enabled identification.

  • avatar
    sean362880

    I’m sorry, how does RFID make a driver’s license less secure? Even if a ‘clever terrorist’ managed to copy your RFID and use it to get through the Canadian border, how is that different from a normal counterfeit license? It isn’t, except that it’s more difficult to do.

    The state already checks your ID for traffic violations, crossing the border, getting on a plane, etc, so there’s no added ‘big brother’ effect. Besides, that kind of information is already available and is increasing in availability via credit cards, cell phones, satellite navigation, license plate recognition software, facial recognition software, etc.

    My point is that freedom cannot mean anonymity any longer. We need to advocate better legal protection for the USE of information, not panic at its availability.

  • avatar
    Orian

    It’s not difficult with the right equipment (that can be hidden easily in a coat pocket) to pass by you and grab your info from your RFID chip in the local store, mall, sidewalk etc and then use it later. In most cases you would never know it had been copied because you’d never see the person doing it.

    Sean, the problem is people are already violating the use of information and have been for about the last 7 years. The more information someone has the easier it is to control you. Now you have no freedom to do what you want because you are tracked from point to point – just as if you were in prison – being tracked as you move from your cell to your work location to the toilet and back.

  • avatar
    crc

    Thank goodness I will now have a use for the lead wallet that’s been collecting dust at my house.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    I got pulled over the other day and after I handed them my license, registration, and insurance, it got me thinking:

    What’s the point of even holding on to a physical license anymore? The way technology’s going, all relevant information is or will be in a database easily accessible from a police cruiser, so even if you give them an apparently valid license, a quick check will tell them if it’s suspended, expired, revoked, or counterfeit. Seems kinda redundant to hand over your license if you know it’s going to come back suspended or whatever.

    I went to get my license renewed a month ago, and they even asked me if I wanted to keep the picture of me they took when I first got my license. There’s just no reason for anybody to physically keep the license in their wallet anymore.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    quasimondo> You forget, we are in a “papers please” government right now.

    Right now, my wife is REQUIRED BY LAW to have her greencard with her at all times, even if, say, she’s out in the backyard watering the flowers.

  • avatar
    beken

    A couple of months ago, my wife’s aunt and family were crossing the Canada/US border by car into the state of Washington. When they got to the US guard, he told her to pull over, pulled his gun and they searched her car. Finally, an officer came out of main office and asked which person in the car was sick. My wife’s aunt had gone through cancer treatment about a month ago. After checking out the papers, they let everybody continue on their journey. So I believe the RFID readers are already there and have been there for awhile.

  • avatar
    AutoFan

    So, it seems most of the Chicken Little/1984/foil hat wearers missed the part where this was offered as an extra-cost/paperwork enhancement for those who cross the U.S.-Canadian border often and not required for every person in the state. And it only has the same information already on the license to make the crossings go quicker. If you live in NY and don’t want the RFID, you don’t have to get it. Or, pay the extra money and put a piece of foil around it so no one can read it.

    beken
    Your family was singled out because there are radiation detectors at the borders checks now and a cancer patient receiving radiation treatment would trip the alarms. RFID is different from the radiation detector. While it seems obvious to you that they are no threat, the guards at the border don’t know you or your family from Adam and have to take precautions as if it were a real threat.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    1984 was Winston’s best guess as to the year but he didn’t know what the actual date was because the calendars and newspapers all changed whenever Big Brother wanted them to. Maye he was off by 24 years.

  • avatar
    mdf

    AutoFan: While it seems obvious to you that they are no threat, the guards at the border don’t know you or your family from Adam and have to take precautions as if it were a real threat.

    False positives like this — where aunt’s are pulled from their cars at gunpoint — contribute no security to the republic. If anything, it just breeds disrespect:

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/151743

    Millions of cancer patients and not a single terrorist.

    Note that a real threat would have radiation pegging the sensors. And why wouldn’t a real terrorists undergo some illicit radiotherapy prior to entry — complete with “doctors papers” — to cover the dirty-bomb tracks? Or simply walk his vile brew across the undefended sections of the border?

    Might explain the zero true positive rate.

    As for the “if you don’t want an RFID driver license, then don’t get one” argument: it’s only a matter of time before “the conveniences you demanded are now mandatory”. (Google it up).

  • avatar
    faster_than_rabbit

    I’m sorry, how does RFID make a driver’s license less secure? Even if a ‘clever terrorist’ managed to copy your RFID and use it to get through the Canadian border, how is that different from a normal counterfeit license? It isn’t, except that it’s more difficult to do.

    Without RFID, you’re not broadcasting your driver’s license information within a potentially 40′ ft wide (passive RFID) radius. With RFID, you are.

  • avatar
    dhanson865

    1984 wasn’t meant as an accurate guess.

    “Orwell, who had encapsulated the thesis at the heart of his novel” in 1944, wrote most of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the island of Jura, Scotland, during 1947–1948 while critically ill with tuberculosis. He sent the final typescript to his friends Secker and Warburg on 4 December 1948, who published the book on 8 June 1949.”

    “Title

    The novel’s original title was The Last Man in Europe, but publisher Frederic Warburg suggested changing it to a marketable title. Orwell’s reasons for the title are unknown. The name was changed at the publisher’s request. According to the introduction of the Penguin Modern Classics edition, Orwell originally meant 1980 as the story’s time, but as the writing became prolonged, he re-titled it 1982, then 1984, coincidently the reverse of the year written, 1948. The full title of the first edition was Nineteen Eighty-Four. A novel.”

  • avatar
    zintradi

    yeah, something about having a license that could be scanned in my wallet while I’m walking down the street is unsettling to me… I know, I know it’s just voluntary now and their giving you a sleeve to keep it from being scanned, but still unsettling. If they come to Wa state, I can’t say that i’ll be getting one.

  • avatar
    AutoFan

    “the conveniences you demanded are now mandatory”.
    I’m not sure I would use the word of a punk-rock/”convicted” (in civil court) fraudster/anarchist to make the ever popular slippery slope argument.

    Just the regular National ID program became a laughing stock because of how unwieldy it would have become and that was without RFID. I don’t think the political will is there now or anytime in the future to implement something that would be more expensive and more complicated that what we have now.

  • avatar
    Joe ShpoilShport

    Freedom

  • avatar
    rpenna

    If I had the highest income tax, property tax, medicare tax, sales tax and a still had a projected 29 billion dollar budget shortfall, I’d wanna know where everyone was too.

    You guys don’t know what you’re missing!

  • avatar
    shaker

    Foil-Lined Wallets.

  • avatar
    mdf

    AutoFan: I’m not sure I would use the word of a punk-rock/”convicted” (in civil court) fraudster/anarchist to make the ever popular slippery slope argument.

    In the United States, drivers licenses are the de facto national ID card. Even people who do not drive have them. So ubiquitous is this practice that authorities (public and private) will even accept drivers licenses issued in foreign countries as identity tokens.

    And this all has been the case for decades.

    The “Enhanced Drivers License” (EDL) — New York is the latest, but all states on the north and south border are coming online — will almost certainly become the preferred document. You will need one (or its equivalent) to visit any federal building. Want a mortgage? Expect this soon: “We don’t accept the old-style DL’s anymore: get an EDL or get lost.” Even states that have no international border are beginning to offer them for the “convenience” (their words, not Jello Biafra’s!)

    Political will? Already done: you can fall to your knees, and prostrate yourself towards Washington DC — savior of saviors! — and praise the REAL ID Act for all of this too. Might as well do get used to this now before it too becomes de facto mandatory.

    Just the regular National ID program became a laughing stock because of how unwieldy it would have become and that was without RFID.

    I think you have missed the boat on this. I also don’t think you understand that the New York state stuff is already a done deal: the hardware is all in place, the database updates are done, testing complete, applications are now being accepted.

    That is, the costs are already sunk. Optional or mandatory is now but either a matter of on-the-ground practice or trivial, zero cost, regulatory twitch of the pen.

    No operational difference either way.

    In short, the official foot is in the door:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_in_the_door

    Given the history, it would be remarkably naive to think ‘they’ are just offering their boot as a free door-stop service…

  • avatar
    Johnson Schwanz

    Ah, RFID drivers licenses. Facebook meets your wallet.

    Passive participation is laughable, as you willingly give up as much personal information as possible without prodding by the requesting party. Facebook makes you write your name, city/state, school, workplace, friends, hobbies AND allows you to put pictures of yourself doing whatever it is you do. And it’s all voluntary.

    Po-tay-toe/Po-tah-toe

  • avatar
    AutoFan

    Political will? Already done: you can fall to your knees, and prostrate yourself towards Washington DC — savior of saviors! — and praise the REAL ID Act for all of this too. Might as well do get used to this now before it too becomes de facto mandatory.

    So far, only 1 state actually offers, not requires, EDL’s. 3 states are looking at or are close to getting them, including NY, and 1 state is not allowing them. 4 states out of 50. So, I would say that the real political will is not there.
    DHS does have guidelines for EDL’s because they can be substituted for passports, which is a federal document. The RealID data requirements aren’t really any different that what was already required to get a license or photo ID anyway and it doesn’t require that licenses have RFID.

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