A controversial technology already planned for tracking consumer products could be used to create “smart” driver’s licenses that emit signals readable from a distance, according to federal and state government officials contemplating ways to fight identity fraud.
Radio frequency identification, or RFID, could help thwart terrorists who use falsified documents to get around, say Virginia lawmakers who will hear testimony on the technology’s uses, reports Wired.com.
As WorldNetDaily reported, a Johnson & Johnson executive recently told industry leaders that in the future, the RFID chips will be “on everything from diapers to surgical instruments.”
On the driver’s licenses, the computer chips would emit a radio signal bearing the holder’s unique, personal information. Virginia is considering adding biometric data such as fingerprints and retinal scans to the RFID tags.
But privacy advocates fear government could use the technology to spy on citizens and believe it could make identity theft even more complicated.
Government agents could, for example, easily identify large numbers of protesters in a march, and crooks could mine personal information from the wallets of passersby on a street corner, Wired.com said.
A government also could track the movement of its citizens by coupling global positioning data related to satellites with information from card readers that translate the signals.
Advocates of the technology insist, however, the fears are exaggerated.
“Putting a chip or biometric data on a driver’s license doesn’t change one iota the rules under which that information can be used,” said Robert D. Atkinson, vice president at the Progressive Policy Institute, according to Wired.
But Virginia lawmakers say they need to be convinced the technology cannot be easily abused.
“I can’t see us using RFID until we’re comfortable we can without encroaching on individual privacy, and ensure it won’t be used as a Big Brother technology by the government,” Joe May, chairman of the Virginia General Assembly’s House Science and Technology Committee, told Wired.
Some privacy advocates worry about the capability of reader devices to sense signals from a distance. Tests have demonstrated broadcast ranges of up to 30 feet.
Opponents also point out federal legislators could require states to conform with uniform “smart card” standards, effectively turning the licenses into a national ID that could be read anywhere in the country.
But costs will be a factor as states face the burden of complying with the federal standards.
“It could easily become yet another unfunded federal mandate, of which we already have $60 billion worth,” said Cheye Calvo, director of the transportation committee at the National Conference of State Legislatures, according to Wired.