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DHS Meeting Draws Comments on RFID

RFID and auto-ID industry representatives, as well as privacy advocates and concerned citizens, gathered to discuss Homeland Security's "Use of RFID in Human Identification" report.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 09, 2006An eclectic mix of RFID industry representatives, general auto-ID industry members and concerned citizens gathered at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco on Wednesday for a meeting of the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. Attendees provided and heard commentary on a draft report released last month, written by the committee's Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee, entitled "The Use of RFID in Human Identification."

The Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee makes recommendations to Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, and Maureen Cooney, the department's acting chief privacy officer. The committee focuses on programmatic, policy, operational, administrative and technological issues relevant to the DHS that affect individual privacy, data integrity and data interoperability. The draft report is intended to guide the department on its use of RFID technology in identity documents. Citing concerns over misuse and possible shortfalls of the technology with respect to privacy protections, the report suggests the DHS consider alternatives to using RFID in identity documents (see DHS Subcommittee Advises Against RFID).

The written comments, submitted to the committee before May 22, were shared with the meeting attendees. The majority were from citizens and privacy advocates, expressing concern—or, in many cases, outrage—over the use of RFID technology in government identity documents (or other applications of the technology, including using tags to identify pharmaceuticals), and citing fears that the government would use the tags for surveilling citizens.

A number of individuals, however—mostly those representing companies in RFID or auto-ID industry associations—disagreed with the subcommittee's findings, stating they believe data encryption and other security measures make RFID appropriate for use in RFID. Written comments listed a number of concerns over how the draft report discusses possible misuses of RFID without also supplying details of such misuse. For example, a letter sent by Symbol notes that while the report states that "an eavesdropper may be able to collect usable information from communication between an RFID chip and reader, even if the communication is encrypted," it does not offer any "examples of how well-encrypted transmissions would offer useful information to an eavesdropper."

Steve Yonkers, privacy officer for the US-Visit Program, discussed how US-Visit is currently performing a proof-of-concept test to see how well UHF tags can be read from a distance when embedded in I-94 visa forms carried by foreign nationals as they enter and exit the country at land borders. Yonkers says US-Visit is testing the technology because it could help speed up the authentication process by prompting the computer screen used by U.S. Customs and Border Protections agents with the biometric data they need to check I-94 form-holders wishing to cross the border. The technology would also run the IDs against background checks to screen for possible criminals or terror suspects, prior to their arrival at the border checkpoint.

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