The sign of a civilization in decline is when there is widespread fear of the future and longing for the past. While America may not yet be in decline we are certainly fearing the future. Case in point, California’s decision to back off its deployment of drivers’ licenses with embedded radio-frequency identification chips (RFID) in them. RFID chips are small electronic devices embedded with a unique code that communicates with an electronic reader usually within a range of 1 to 2 inches.
We can thank the privacy-fundamentalists for this, for they love nothing better than to spread fear based on misinformation about technology. As supposedly pro-tech Wired Magazine writes, this is “spy-friendly technology.” The article claims that “Privacy advocates worry that, if more states begin embracing RFID, the licenses could become mandatory nationwide and evolve into a government-run surveillance tool to track the public’s movements.” It goes on to say “law enforcement already monitors drivers’ whereabouts via the mass deployment of license-plate readers. But the ability to scan for identification cards in public areas could evolve into another surveillance tool.”
That sure scares me. I don’t want the government knowing when I head into a bar right before closing. The only problem is that this fear is completely without grounds. As ITIF has written before, RFID has a read range of a few inches. Every morning when I take the Metro to work I wish the read range was farther as I have to take my Metro fare card with its embedded RFID tag out of my wallet and almost physically touch it to the reader. Or how about my RFID-enabled office key fob. Or my RFID-enabled credit card. My RFID-enabled passport. Etc. etc. These technologies simply do not allow someone to be tracked. You cannot scan these licenses in public as in everyone walking down the street has their license scanned. Repeat after me: You cannot be scanned in public with these.
But privacy fundamentalists know that all they have to say in response is “yes you can,” for they have impunity when it comes to this kind of fiction. No one calls them this blatant distortion of reality, in part because too many in the media look at these stories as “he said, she said.” When is the public and the media going to call the privacy fundamentalists on their dishonesty? Given that the privacy community has been saying these kinds of things for over a decade and the media and policy makers still take it seriously (as they do when they treat anti-RFID fundamentalist Kathryn Albrecht seriously, even after she wrote in her book “SpyChips” that the government has a secret plan to forcibly implant tracking chips under our skin; which they are carrying out at Area 51), the answer is probably, never.