RFID: Don't Leave Home Without It

E-mail Stephanie vL Henkel

Like the rain, which falleth upon the just and unjust, technology is basically neutral. (There are some obvious exceptions, but their number is small, we all know what they are, and I'm not going to talk about them today.) What I am going to talk about is how quickly neutrality erodes when someone intercepts a technology and runs with it in a way its developer never envisioned. It's time to think about one ominous aspect of RFID.

What Is It?
Secure ID is a truly bad initiative that has been moving like a pig through a python these past few years. Brought to you by your federal and state governments, the basic idea of Secure RFID is to assign each US citizen an identity card with an embedded RFID chip containing a great deal of information. What information? Who knows?

Where Will It be Used?
Working from the international to the local, let's first look at passports. The states bordering Canada are already riled up at the prospect of needing those documents for a weekend in or business trip to our northern neighbor. Some folks right on the border cross it daily with no more documentation than a standard driver's license. Soon they're going to need to haul out their $97.00 passports for those junkets.

So what's the problem for the rest of the country? Although the passport chips are designed to be decoded only within inches of a reader, it turns out they can be interrogated at up to 69 feet away. US travelers passing through overseas (or domestic) customs, checking into a hotel, or visiting a currency exchange stand a good chance of giving up lots of information they'd rather keep to themselves. Identity theft raised to the nth power. Or a kidnapping for ransom. So renew your passport now while it's still pre-improved.

And Where Else?
Why, in your driver's license. (Update on that item, in case you just read it: The New Hampshire House said No, the governor promised to sign No, but the Senate squirmed a bit; so the official stance is now 401 N to 24 Y; and yonder it comes.) This strange new license, sort of midway between the classic version and a national ID card, will not be obtained in a short visit to the Motor Vehicle Department. You'll need oodles of identifying materials—ideally including your birth certificate (or a passport for which you will have needed your guess what). So off to the MVD, stand in line, hand over your papers and return at some future date after the fact checkers have verified whatever you left off. The price of your license will go up because the federal government plans to pass the added cost of the snazzier license along to the states.

Anywhere Else?
I'm glad you asked, because this particular imposition of a chip-equipped ID really (ahem) cooked my shorts. Some states have tried to require either a government-issued photo ID or two other proofs of identity as the state might deem acceptable—TO VOTE! The obvious problems here are two:

Nearly every would-be voter would have to pony up for the card. This outlay would have the effect of disenfranchising the poor and moreover would constitute a poll tax, long ago abolished in our country. Voting is a right, not a privilege, and no one should have to pay to cast a ballot.

My second issue with this notion less idealistic. I somehow doubt the voting places are so overrun by tricksters that we need to carry yet another card that we'll need perhaps once a year. Yet we'd obsessively add it to our wallets because of the potential shame of getting the bum's rush out of our local polling place.

One Easy Fix
Here's a quick mathematical solution to voting anxiety: If every registered voter hit the voting booths, our sheer numbers would eat the fake ballots for lunch. Be sure to turn out on November 7!

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