Washington State, DHS May Use RFID in Licenses

The state of Washington and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plan to jointly develop a driver’s license, likely embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, as an alternative to a passport for travel to some countries.

The state and the DHS late last month announced plans to launch a pilot program to offer drivers in Washington a license that complies with the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Christine Gregoire

Christine GregoireThe WHTI is the government’s plan for meeting one of the mandates of a bill enacted by Congress in 2004. The law requires that all travelers to and from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda carry passports or other DHS-approved documents to verify their identity.

“This pilot project is a way to boost security at our border without hampering trade and tourism,” Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said.

The enhanced driver’s licenses are expected to be available by next January. The pilot program will extend until 2009 but can be renewed, said a spokesman for Gregoire.

He added that the state and the DHS have yet to decide on the technology to be used in the license, but he noted that it will likely include RFID chips.

Use of the new license is optional for residents, the spokesman noted. “We very much understand there are folks not interested in carrying around an ID card or license with a chip,” he said.

The deal with the DHS came just after Gregoire signed state legislation requiring that the privacy of ID card bearers be protected and that RFID chips include encryption capabilities to prevent skimming, or the scanning of data without the bearer’s knowledge.

Gregoire’s spokesman also noted that the new license will likely comply with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which calls for the government to set guidelines to ensure the accuracy of state identification documents.

DHS officials are still developing the act’s technology requirements, and a spokesman for the agency said it will use the Washington program to help it define them.

The plan for using technology such as RFID in the new licenses drew criticism from some privacy advocates.

“An RFID-laced ID card is like a beacon that can transmit personal information to anyone with the right reader device,” said Katherine Albrecht, an author and consumer privacy rights advocate.

“The government is fooling itself, or trying to fool us, if it believes such a tempting target for identity theft can be kept secure,” Albrecht said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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