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DHS Subcommittee Advises Against RFID

A draft report from a DHS advisory group argues that the benefits from using RFID-enabled documents to verify an individual's identity are overshadowed by the risks to personal privacy.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
May 22, 2006RFID might be a great technology for identifying and tracking goods, but according to a draft report from a subcommittee of the Privacy Office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it's not a panacea for long lines and forged IDs at border crossings and airports. Furthermore, the report claims, its use could weaken the privacy of individuals whose government-issued identity documents might carry RFID tags. The report urges the DHS to consider "other technologies that may serve the same [identification] goals with less risk to privacy."

The DHS Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee of the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee wrote the 15-page report to guide the department's secretary, Michael Chertoff, acting chief privacy officer Maureen Cooney and DHS program managers in deciding whether to deploy RFID technology within DHS programs to identify or track individuals. The report has not yet been submitted to Cooney, who has the lead role at DHS in analyzing and deciding the legal implications of various programs and their impact on privacy.


James Harper
The Privacy Office is tasked with ensuring that no DHS programs or policies negatively impact the privacy of U.S. citizens and visitors, based on the Privacy Act of 1974, the Freedom of Information Act and other laws, including Section 222 of the Homeland Security Act. Within the Privacy Office sits the Data Privacy Integrity Advisory Committee, which advises Chertoff and Cooney on a number of matters, including technological issues relevant to the DHS that affect individual privacy.

The Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee is made up of D. Reed Freeman, Jr., chief privacy officer at online advertising services company Claria; James Harper, editor of Privacilla.org and director of information policy studies at Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Cato Institute; Lance Hoffman, professor at George Washington University; Tara Lemmey, CEO at Lens Ventures and former president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a privacy advocacy group; Joseph Leo, vice president at research and engineering firm Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC); John O. Marsh, professor at George Mason University School of Law; and Charles Palmer, group manager of IBM's security, networking and privacy departments. The report, titled "The Use of RFID for Human Identification," will be presented to the full committee at a June 7, 2006, public Advisory Committee meeting in San Francisco.

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