California could have become the fifth state to issue enhanced driver's licenses (EDL) and identification cards embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, but last Friday, state lawmakers suspended the legislation over privacy concerns. The RFID-equipped cards were to be optional, but ultimately it was a lack of measures to prevent law enforcement from tapping into the chips that killed the bill, WIRED reports.
California EDLs originally were intended to be a solution to long wait times at the US-Mexico border – drivers carrying EDLs would not have to show a passport to re-enter the US at land border checkpoints where RFID readers are used. Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington are the four states that already employ EDLs, and residents of those states don't need a passport to re-enter the US at most land borders if they have one of the special licenses.
Privacy advocates are worried that if more states start using EDLs and enhanced ID cards, they could become mandatory across the US, allowing the government to surveil the motoring public without its knowledge. Information on the RFID cards is stored in a secure database at the Department of Homeland Security. "It's not difficult to imagine a time when the EDL programs cease to be optional," says Jim Harper, the Cato Institute's director of information policy studies. "The government also tends to expand programs far beyond their original purpose."
Ben Hueso, a California senator from San Diego, supports RFID technology and offers a different viewpoint. "Enhanced Driver's Licenses can provide a significant economic benefit to the state of California, while strengthening border security," Hueso wrote in a press release in May, according to WIRED.
We're not sure what's best for California regarding RFID technology, but considering how much of an impact technology like this could make on its citizens' privacy, it's encouraging to see lawmakers and privacy advocates treading carefully and airing concerns. Stay tuned for more on this issue – it isn't going away any time soon.
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