Monday, March 16, 2009

THE BEAST GETS THE GO AHEAD: Enhanced driver's license gets green light

Enhanced driver's licence or national identity card?

In the name of thrift and convenience, Canadian governments are opening the door to a privacy-threatening ID scheme imposed by the United States in the misguided pursuit of "secure" borders. Currently, the Ontario government is pushing through legislation – Bill 85, the Photo Card Act – that would "enhance" the provincial driver's licence to meet U.S. demands.

As part of the Bush administration's war on terror, Canadians entering the U.S. will soon need to show a passport or equivalent document in compliance with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The U.S. has already put this requirement into effect for air travel and in June 2009 it will cover all land and water crossings.

In anticipation of this and to facilitate "the efficient and secure flow of cross-border travel and commerce," several Canadian provinces are instituting enhanced driver's licences (EDL). Enhancing a licence in accordance with standards set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security involves including a citizenship indicator, an optical character recognition zone and a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip.

With these features, an EDL can serve as an alternative to a Canadian passport at an American border. Promoted as cheaper and more convenient than a passport, such a licence initially appear to be a good deal. A closer examination reveals several flaws with this approach.

One of the most serious problems with EDLs is the requirement to adopt a particularly insecure form of chip – the EPC Gen 2. Over stiff opposition from the "smart card" industry as well as civil liberties organizations, Homeland Security has insisted on a type of chip that is notoriously privacy-invasive in its potential. The chip on the card will hold a unique personal identification number that anyone in the vicinity (at least 10 metres) can read with commercially available equipment and link to any other information the person may have about the card holder.

Soon after B.C. announced its licence initiative in early 2008, Canada's privacy commissioners drew attention to the privacy risks of EDLs. In particular, they were concerned that the U.S. government's requirements for vicinity RFID technology "permits surreptitious location tracking of individuals carrying an EDL and ... does not encrypt or otherwise protect the unique identifying number assigned to the holder."

They called on the federal government and participating provinces "to ensure the security of personal information stored on EDL RFID (chips) and to prevent the possibility of surreptitious location tracking."

Since then, Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan have joined B.C. in announcing their intentions to develop an EDL, but without adequately addressing the privacy commissioners' concerns. None of these provinces has gone beyond reiterating the false and misleading claims that since the number on the EDL's chip is random and "meaningless," it contains no personal information, and that issuing a "protective sleeve" with the card will prevent unauthorized reading.

It is ironic that while some jurisdictions require the disabling of similar RFIDs in consumer items at point of purchase, there appears to be no effective way for individuals to do likewise with a card many will carry all the time. There has been no visible progress in developing less invasive features, such as a switch that would allow cardholders to turn the chip off until they want it read, or the option to request an EDL without a chip and only the optical character zone for machine reading.

If the new licence catches on, there will be strong pressures from many quarters to exploit its RFID capabilities in settings far from border crossings, such as stores tracking and identifying customers, or police monitoring public spaces. This will fuel pressure to turn the card from voluntary option to mandatory requirement. Such potential for "function creep" increases the urgency for public discussion of the policy issues and alternatives.

That Homeland Security and, apparently, our own federal government are adamant about deploying vicinity RFIDs with scant provision for even obvious protective measures, invites the conclusion that some in powerful government positions intend enhanced licences to serve wider surveillance purposes.

With earlier attempts at developing national ID card schemes in Canada and the U.S. having been thwarted by popular opposition, the current push for EDLs appears to be a soft-sell, backdoor approach toward national ID schemes that are harmonized across all of North America.

While the Ontario government is aware of the many serious concerns about the privacy-threatening aspects of the enhanced photo card initiative, and has been offered specific proposals for improving Bill 85, it has brushed them off and failed to amend the bill in a manner that will sufficiently safeguard the privacy and civil liberties of Ontarians.

In particular, the valuable recommendations of Ontario's information and privacy commissioner have been largely ignored. Rather than pass this flawed legislation, the government should send Bill 85 back to committee for a serious public discussion of the risks and alternatives.

Until these issues have been addressed satisfactorily, Canadians who value privacy, national sovereignty and good governance would be well advised not to apply for the enhanced card. Instead, for a modest extra $10 a year they would be better off investing in the more secure, more privacy protective and more versatile Canadian passport.

New US entry ID required June 1

Mar 2, 2009 9:32 AM

The new EDL program allows unsuspecting people like me to receive Homeland Security approved tracking chips. Really though, the license does contain a vicinity RFID chip that can be read at border crossings (and likely elsewhere as well), to facilitate document validation.

On June 1, 2009, all travelers entering the United States will be required to present a single document denoting both citizenship and identity.

According to information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), many cross-border travelers already have the necessary documents such as a passport, passport card or a trusted traveler card (NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST), or an enhanced driver’s license (EDL) currently issued by the states of Washington, New York, and Vermont and the Province of British Columbia. The State of Michigan and additional Canadian provinces will be issuing EDLs in the coming months.

The document requirement already is in place for all air travelers, and applies to travelers entering the United States who were previously exempt, including citizens of the US, Canada, and Bermuda.

The requirement is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative prompted by security concerns following the terrorists attacks on the United States in 2001.

DHS announced recently that all statutory criteria required by the initiative have been met so that the program implementation can begin June 1.

Michigan motorists will have the option next year of applying for an enhanced driver’s license (EDL) that also meets tougher federal document requirements at America’s borders, Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land announced this month. Land and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials met in Detroit to sign a memorandum of agreement and a business plan that pave the way for Michigan’s enhanced license program. In June 2005, Land proposed the creation of a driver’s license that also could be used in lieu of a passport, making it easier for residents of border states to meet federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requirements for entry into the U.S. through land and sea ports of entry. State legislation authorizing Land’s department to pursue the EDL plan with federal officials was passed in February 2008. Michigan’s enhanced licenses and state-issued enhanced ID cards will be voluntary and available only to Michigan residents who also are U.S. citizens. While the actual cost has yet to be determined, the law limits it to not more than $50. Michigan will continue offering its standard driver’s license as well. Enhanced licenses will be available at all Secretary of State SUPER!Centers and other select branch offices beginning next spring. Visit for more information about Secretary of State services and requirements.



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