Thursday, March 30, 2006

Feds must drop ID plan - North County Times / The Californian - Editorials

Feds must drop ID plan - North County Times / The Californian - Editorials

The law is called the Real ID Act. As soon as 2008, states will have to issue tamper-proof drivers licenses that contain loads of personal information about the carrier ---- Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, home address ---- a silver platter for criminals who specialize in stealing credit card numbers and raiding bank accounts.

Worse, the federal government is leaning toward a technical standard based on Radio Frequency Identification. Called RFID, it has been around for years, but you'll be hearing a lot more about it in the future.

RFID powers the clicker that opens your car doors, it lets businesses instantaneously track FedEx shipments, and it collects tolls at 65 miles per hour in the Fastrak system. Using chips a little larger than a grain of rice implanted under the skin of a pet, RFID allows animal shelters to find worried owners.

However, the technology's use in drivers licenses carries vast potential for harm.

Federal officials love RFID because it will let them track and identify people from a distance. In an airport security line, for example, agents would be able to read people's drivers licenses while they are nestled inside wallets and purses. Consumers may very well prefer the cards if speed and efficiency can be improved.

We worry that officials will be able to track the movements of Americans and store their whereabouts in vast computer networks. Indeed, the Real ID Act forces states to collect and keep vast amounts of new data on private individuals. There is nothing voluntary about needing a drivers license, so this invasion of privacy is compulsory.

All by itself, such monitoring is a violation of the basic right of people to be left alone by their government. And, given the terrible history of the federal bureaucracy's deployment of new technology, this data will almost certainly be hacked by criminals.

Yet criminals won't even need to penetrate federal computers. The tiny radio chips being contemplated by officials will let a skilled thief collect vast amounts of personal information by simply strolling through a crowded mall.

One other thing: This law, which forces state officials to check original birth certificates and other documents, will cripple California's already overwhelmed Department of Motor Vehicles. State computers date from the 1960s, so they can't begin to hold all that additional data. And foreign-born citizens may be hard-pressed to come up with birth records.

Perhaps pondering the voter outrage from even greater gridlock at the DMV, state Senate leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, called the federal law a "man-made disaster."

Just wait until people find their bank accounts emptied, call the cops, and find their names improperly placed on some government watch-list.

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