Sensors Mag

Let the Chips Fall-Far from Me: Part the First

May 3, 2006 By: Stephanie vL Henkel, Sensors

E-mail Stephanie vL Henkel

New Hampshirites just got roused from their winter torpor by two wakeup slaps. One's the proposed new uniform driver's license initiative and the other's the prospect of wearing clothing with RFID chips hidden in them somewhere. The stink has been predictably high. And maybe wafting toward your state as well.

What Will $3 Million Buy?
Turns out the smart money says it won't buy all that much in New Hampshire. We are not a secretive lot, but we do value our privacy. So the prospect of a national ID card system, to be instituted initially in the form of uniform driver's licenses, is not going over at all well. The plan's been quietly crawling thorough the halls of Congress for some time, and now appears inescapable because it's been digested into some immense spending bill that has to do with funding for the war effort. The deal is that these new and improved licenses will incorporate microchips richly endowed with personal information. Oh, swell! Should that slick, slim license escape my grasp and be retrieved by someone who does not have my best interests at heart . . . I'd rather not meditate on the consequences.

What's Happened and What's Next?
New Hampshire and Kentucky have each been offered that $3 million to tie for first place in putting those Real ID driver's licenses into place. Every state's been told to adopt them by 2008. No Real ID, and you'll have to present a passport to board an airplane. Maybe even to cast your ballot at the polling place.

There's been a protest rally at the State House in Concord that drew opponents decked out in Colonial tricorn hats and, strangely enough, Nazi regalia. Some even daubed 666 on their foreheads, the "Mark of the Beast" signifying the End Times. (I suspect that was hyperbole but I wouldn't guarantee it.) The New Hampshire state motto: "Live Free or Die." Kentucky's is "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." Neither sounds particularly amenable to marching in lockstep. And I think I know enough about the eastern end of Kentucky to predict that Real ID promoters are likely to be met with something considerably more hostile than costumes and face-painting.

New Hampshire's governor John Lynch has promised to sign a bill banning the state's participation in the Real ID Act, a bill that has passed the state House and is expected to go before the Senate shortly That's how angry most Granite Staters are right now. If you want to hear from someone who really thinks Real ID is a load of hooey, security expert Bruce Schneier's your guy and can cite you chapter and verse.

Our Northern Neighbors
I can't see the situation as likely to be improved by a new plan to require either high-tech ID cards or passports to cross the (formerly) "world's longest undefended border." That would be the one between the U.S. and Canada. Among those pushing back against this idea is Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, who fears that it would decrease attendance at Buffalo Bills games and eventually spell the end of the Bills.

And Finally the Ports
This was bound to happen and it was equally destined to cause a wrangle: Background checks will soon be required of some 400,000 workers employed in what are considered "sensitive" areas of the U.S. ports and special ID cards will be issued to those who pass muster. While no one doubts that our ports should be more secure, some argue that these vettings and cards won't do it and others take offense at the perceived invasion of the worker's privacy.

The Bottom Line
Buffalo Bills, privacy issues, and identity theft aside, I think the fundamental resistance to Real ID and similar proposals that have sunk without a trace lies in this: We Americans are a proud-necked lot who refuse to join some great collective, especially one that values uniformity over the diversity by which we have always defined ourselves and our country.

Tomorrow: Bugs in My Pants, and Worse Ideas

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