California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons

Papers Please

California’s legislature is considering a bill to authorize adding radio tracking beacons to drivers licenses and state non-driver ID cards.

Each such card would broadcast a unique tracking number which could legally be intercepted by anyone with a suitable radio transceiver within range, and which would be linked to a national DHS database of drivers license, state ID card, and citizenship information.  

The tracking beacons are designed to allow the tracking numbers on ID cards carried by travelers in motor vehicles to be read from outside their vehicles as they approach or pass through checkpoints.

Independent academic studies of actual ID cards issued by other states, using the same standards proposed for use in California, have found that they can sometimes be read from more than 50 yards away.

S.B. 397 has already been approved by the California Senate, and is now under consideration in the Assembly. Because it has been amended by the Assembly, it will need to be reconsidered by the Senate (to decide whether to accept the Assembly amendments) if and when it is approved by the Assembly.

To date, S.B. 397 has been largely unopposed in the California legislature, and it is likely to be approved unless legislators start hearing a groundswell of opposition from their constituents.

What excuse is being offered for this scheme? And what’s its real purpose?

Not surprisingly, the impetus for this proposal comes not from California but from the Feds (and, of course, their partners and profiteers in dataveillance).

As part of the so-called “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” (which we have objected to as uncontitutional and in violation of U.S. obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), the Department of State and the Deaprtment of Homeland Security promulgated regulations in 2006 (air and sea travel) and 2007 (land travel) requiring U.S. citizens to show passports to cross the U.S. border to or form Canada or Mexico — unless they had a new type of “Enhanced Drivers License” (EDL) or “enhanced” non-driver state ID card with a long-range RFID tracking transeiver.

EDLs would be offered by states, in cooperation with DHS, as an added-cost alternative to a regular drivers license that could also be used as a border crosssing card.

The idea was that an EDL would be cheaper than a U.S. passport, and that the price differential would motivate Canadian and Mexican border states to collaborate with DHS in issuing these RFID cards and motivate frequent border crossers to acquiesce in their use for tracking their movements.

New York began issuing EDLs in 2007, and DHS began deploying RFID readers at border crossings in 2008.  The largest other Canadian border states — Michigan and Washington — have since followed suit, along with Vermont (where Montreal is the nearest large city for most of the state).

But none of the U.S. states bordering Mexico has agreed to issue EDLs — yet.

Neither Califonia legislators nor Califonia residents should be distracted by the vaunted “convenience” of an EDL that can be used both for driving (and/or other state purposes) and crossing the border.

As a U.S. citizen, you have the right to leave the country, and to return. That right does not depend on your paying a fee or applying for, or receiving, any government credentials or permission.

What really distinguishes an EDL are the ways it can function as a surveillance device:

Before any state can issue an EDL, it must collect and forward to the DHS, for inclusion in a national database, the card holder’s personal details including their photograph.  And each EDL broadcasts a unique RFID chip number that serves as a pointer to the record about the cardholder in this database.

So while an EDL looks like a “state” ID, it is fundamentally a national ID card — something Americans have consistently (and rightly) opposed — and an enabler of tracking and logging of cardholders’ movements.

Logs of citizens’ border crossings and movements through non-border checkpoints are obviously of interest to the Feds and their state and local law enforcement partners, especially in conjunction with logs of vehicle movements obtained from automated license-plate readers.

Cops don’t need to ask, “Can I see some ID?” when, from outside your vehicle, they can obtain the EDL chip number and corresponding lifetime DHS travel history of every occupant of the vehicle.

And as more people carry EDLs, how soon will not broadcasting your ID number be deemed sufficiently suspicious to justify detention, search, or interrogation?

Drive-by EDL surveillance won’t be lmited to the government. No current state or Federal law places any restrictions on private reading of RFID chips, including reading of the unique ID numbers on EDLs and use or sale of these records. What business wouldn’t want to be able to identify regular customers as soon as they drive into the parking lot? If you show your EDL as proof of age to buy alcohol, the liquor store can legally scan your EDL, read the RFID chip number, and sell this information to a data aggregator who compiles a lookup table of chip numbers, corresponding name, age, and address information, and transaction and location history.

Even without access to either government (DHS and state) or commercial look-up tables linking the unencryped unique chip ID numbers to additional personal information, anyone who gets close enough to you to read the chip in your EDL can use it to track you wherever you go, even form outside your vehicle, as long as you are carrying your EDL unshielded. This functionality will be especially useful to stalkers and paparazzi, among others.

You can keep an EDL in a foil sleeve to make it harder to read at a distance, but in practice people have to show their drivers licenses often enough that few will bother.  A passport, on the other hand, has an RFID chip with a read range at least an order of magnitude, perhaps two, smaller than that of an EDL. And since a passport is less often used for anything other than crossing borders, it’s less of a nuisance to keep it shielded at other times than to always keep your drivers license shielded.

Long-range radio tracking and a national ID database are surveillance, not convenience features, entirely unnecessary for a “border crossing” credentiaL These are features, not bugs, of the EDL scheme. And they deserve a resounding “No” from California’s legislature and citizenry.

8 thoughts on “California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons

  1. I always put new driver’s license or a new credit card into the microwave for a few seconds and repeat that until the card gets crinkled on the edges, then I let it set overnight with a powerful magnet sitting on the magnetic strip.

    1. Nice!! I was going to say “put my drivers license in a lead box” and keep it in the glove box, but your idea is better.

      1. Actually just wrapping these rfid equipped devices in aluminum foil will render them neutralized. no need to microwave them, unless it simply makes you feel better about it. me, i just keep mine in the top of my tin foil hat!
        : )

    2. Sounds nice to remain anonymous this way, but wait until they take the next step of responding to any passage of a person who does NOT transmit an RFID code with pursuit and arrest. They are in the process of making privacy and anonymity illegal. Frying your ID is a small step they can shrug off. When large numbers of people begin withdrawing economic cooperation it will be as if a bomb went off in the financial system, and THAT will get their attention.

    1. I think the microwave fries the RFID chip, and the magnet erases all the info on the strip. (just as it would erase a VHS tape)

      It’s a good idea, and I’m going to nuke my driver’s license next time I’m in the 7-11. (I don’t have a microwave)

  2. Excerpt from
    Q: What do I do if I find an RFID chip? Can I kill or disable it?

    A: You can disable a chip for all practical purposes by disconnecting it from its antenna. It is usually pretty obvious where the chip is located in an RFID tag (all the antennas will run to it). Once you find the tiny black square you can use a pair of scissors or a knife to cut it off. To ensure that the tiny chip cannot later be read (assuming anyone could even find a device so small), you can puncture it with a straight pin, crush it, or pulverize it. (Note: While burning or microwaving can destroy a chip, we do not recommend these methods because of fire risk. See the Q & A below.) Do not try to “drown” it, since water does not generally destroy RFID chips. Running a magnet over the chip will not work, either.

    Q: Can I microwave products to kill any hidden RFID tags they might contain?

    A: While microwaving an RFID tag will destroy it (a microwave emits high frequency electromagnetic energy that overloads the antenna, eventually blowing out the chip), there is a good chance the the tag will burst into flames first. The difficulty of destroying a hidden RFID chip is one reason we need legislation making it illegal to hide a chip in an item in the first place.

    Q: Will a magnet erase an RFID chip?

    A: No, the chips are not magnetically encoded. Running a magnet over the chip or using a tape eraser will not affect the chip.

    The easiest method for destroying a RFID tag is to hit it with a hammer. Just pick up any ordinary hammer and give the chip a few swift hard whacks. This will destroy the chip, and leave no evidence that the tag has been tampered with. This method is suitable for destroying the tags in passports, because there will be no proof that you intentionally destroyed the chip.

  3. “Not surprisingly, the impetus for this proposal comes not from California but from the Feds (and, of course, their partners and profiteers in dataveillance).”

    Regardless of the source of the impetus, the traitorous politicians in this sorry state are no doubt salivating at the prospect of more control over the populace.

    The sooner those treasonous scum are hung, the sooner we can begin actually living life again, as opposed to simply surviving.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.