The trouble with RealID is RFID

As RealID regs get closer, states are balking at RFID requirements.

Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, has an opinion piece in CIO, where he lambastes the RealID law - that's the law under driver's licenses will have to be updated into national ID cards, essentially - for requiring either RFID chips or 2D mag strips, both of which are too expensive and too insecure, he says.

Whichever alternative is used, the new system will place a heavy burden on state and local governments, especially departments of motor vehicles. States will now have to verify birth certificates, federal immigration documents and Social Security numbers with the appropriate federal departments, build a database to store and secure identification documents and train personnel to use the new system. Fees and taxes will have to be increased to cover whatever costs are not paid for by the federal government.

But computer chip technology would be the far more expensive of the two options. Citizens Against Government Waste examined the issue in its October 2005 report, Real ID: Big Brother Could Cost Big Money. The total cost of issuing new licenses with embedded computer chips to 196 million drivers could reach $17.4 billion, or $348 million per state. The average cost of a license would shoot from between $10 to $25 to more than $93. Computer chips could be even more expensive than estimated because the chips are brittle and licenses containing them would likely need to be replaced more frequently than non-chip licenses. In addition, the life expectancy of the rapidly-changing technology could require frequent and expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Cost is just the tip of the iceberg. Schatz' real concern is with privacy.

Even more troubling than the financial cost is the potential invasion of privacy. RFID chips have the memory to store every detail about a person, including health records, family history and bank and credit card transactions. RFID chips can also be remotely accessed by a hand-held scanner, raising the risk of identity theft. In contrast, non-chip licenses have to be physically read and therefore physically stolen to be compromised. In the wake of recent controversy over the federal government’s domestic spying program, chip-based licenses could also multiply the opportunities for abuse.

 He points out that several states are taking actions to deal with RealID.

In May 2005, the California state Senate passed legislation that would prohibit the use of chips in driver’s licenses and several other forms of identification. West Virginia and New York recently ruled out chip technology for their new driver’s license programs. Douglas Thompson, manager of driver licensing in West Virginia, told Card Technology magazine that the cost of computer chips for licenses "would have been astronomical." In the same article, the New York Department of Motor Vehicle’s director of investigations pointed to the ripple effect of costs on government and commercial establishments: For chip technology to be effective, police departments, airports and bars would have to install RFID readers