Saturday, September 17, 2005

Show Us Your Papers

Radio Frequency Identity Chips and the Real ID Act of 2005

I first heard of Radio Frequency Identity Chips (“RFID Chips”) a year ago when I was warned that they would soon be put into passports. I got a new passport last February which had a machine readable strip – nothing new, but my old passport had not had one because it had been issued by an embassy, and it was only after 11th September 2001 that all US embassies had to update to the current technology.

President Bush signed HR 418, the Real ID Act of 2005, into law on 11th May 2005. Have you heard of it? Most people have not. It was entrenched in another bill that had to pass because it provided funds both for military actions in Iraq and for tsunami relief.

The Real ID Act has nothing to do with passports, it has to do with a mandatory national identity card, which will be forced on us by masquerading itself as a driver’s license or state ID.

Congressman Ron Paul: Supporters claim it is not a national ID because it is voluntary. However, any state that opts out will automatically make non-persons out of its citizens. The citizens of that state will be unable to have any dealings with the federal government because their ID will not be accepted. They will not be able to fly or to take a train. In essence, in the eyes of the federal government they will cease to exist. It is absurd to call this voluntary. Republican Party talking points on this bill, which claim that this is not a national ID card, nevertheless endorse the idea that "the federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification such as driver’s licenses." So they admit that they want a national ID but at the same time pretend that this is not a national ID.

Here are a few things for which our licenses or state ID cards are currently used:
- Boarding an airplane
- Boarding an Amtrak train
- Obtaining federal hunting or fishing licenses
- Obtaining a passport
- Writing a check at the supermarket
- Cashing payroll or state aid checks
- Enlisting in the military
- Voting in a federal election
- Buying beer
- Entering a federal building
- Entering a bar or club
- Obtaining federal firearms licenses
- Entering a military installation

We will be able to do none of these things by 2008 without our new national ID cards.

It is not yet certain what information will be embedded in the new ID cards nor what kind of technology will be used in them. That has been left up to the discretion of the Department for Fatherland Security.

The information that starts out in the cards will be at the very least: name, date of birth, place of residence (no more p.o. box addresses), social security number, and physical characteristics.

The technology will be at best, machine readable strips and, at worst, RFID Chips. I have done a bit of research into the technology behind RFID Chips. They are already commonly used on some toll roads where a receiver reads the chip that is embedded in the sticker on your windshield. Once we have the RFID Chips in our licenses/ID cards and passports, they can be read whenever and wherever without our knowledge, which means a complete end to privacy. It will become possible for the government (and others) to easily track our movements and know exactly where we are and with whom at all times.

We will not be able to leave our IDs at home because we could be asked to show them at any time. A private citizen will immediately become suspect if s/he is not emitting a proper radio frequency from his/her RFID chip.

This is all in the name of stopping terrorism, of course.

In addition to our new mandatory national ID, the Real ID Act can also effectively close our borders. It authorises the Secretary of Fatherland Security to waive all federal, state and local laws to expedite construction of security fences and barriers at our borders.

There are many other problems with the Real ID Act, e.g. its effect on immigrants and asylum seekers, its cost and identity theft, but they are far too many to go into here.

One more thing: the Real ID Act is in direct conflict with the 10th Amendment to our Constitution. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Oh, and by the way, those of us living overseas may not be able to renew our driver’s licenses at all.

For more information on the Real ID Act of 2005 (for a start):

For more information on RFID Chips, please see (for a start):


Anonymous said...

bummer for you, should you ever choose return to the states. Stay abroad and dont complain!

stevesm_2000 said...


As to your new blog color scheme:

You can put whipped cream on a turd but that doesnt make it a hot fudge sundae

Monkey's Max said...

Anon, it is not just a "bummer" for me, it is a dangerous development for all of us.

SS, don't be a dick; you must have something intelligent to say about the topic.

stevesm_2000 said...

I will say nothing bad about the Leader

Monkey's Max said...

SS, the Leader is not the topic. The topic is RFID chips and national ID cards.

Skeeter said...

I have some observations on this. RFID has been out there for a long time now. Most shipping for major companies like Wal-Mart has all packages with labels that have passive RFID embedded. This is most likely what this Act is calling out, but don't know.
Active RFID requires batteries to send out a signal.
The DOD has required all defense contractors to start shipping things and tagging large pieces of equipment over a certain $ amount with RFID, to enable personnel in the field to quickly and efficiently identify what assets they have and what they need. Generally speaking it's not a locating beacon that someone is monitoring on a radar somewhere. It has the same information that a magnetic strip, 2D barcode, etc has. It also must have a reader similar to a barcode scanner. For passive RFID, the scanners are positioned at a certain point and as the tag passes in front of the scanner, the tag is energized and sends out the information programmed in it to the scanner. This is how Walmart is able to move so much product so efficiently. They know within 5 hours of the sale in China or wherever, that an item has been purchased, how many of that product they have left and where they need to send more, etc. However, that label needs to go past a scanner. Just like a barcode or a strip, needs to get swiped.
Now there are also different strength scanners, depending on where you might want to read the RFID tag. But nothing goes over 20 ft or so (I'd have to check again) Same for Active tags, the signal is pretty weak. I was looking at those for my equipment in the plant. Things like pressure gauges, small welding power supplies, etc, so that I could locate equipment for necessary maintenance, inventory, calibration, etc. I would have to scatter receivers all over my plant to locate the stuff.
Now to the cost, the passive tags are fairly inexpensive, but the equipment to program and scan the RFID tags are pretty high dollar. In other words, no pub or bar is gonna put up the money to spend on this stuff. Guys, we're talking $40,000 here, extremely cost prohibitive. So that kind of leaves it to federal installations, because they're the only ones, with our money of course, that are able to afford it and don't have to justify the costs. Airports, etc, they already know about you, what city you're in, etc. Nothing new. Do I like that? No, but it's nothing new.
OK, now in military and federal buildings, and DOD contractors facilities, you're already subject to search, at anytime for weapons, illegal substances etc. And frankly speaking I'm OK with that.

I need to re-educate myself on the National ID card debate, but that has been going on for a while, RFID or not.

Given the ineptness of the federal government, and state and local is even worse, to implement anything, this is a long, long way off.

Monkey's Max said...

Skeeter, believe me, I did some pretty careful research before writing up this post. If I remember everything I read on Saturday, I believe you are right on with the technology.

The RFID chips in our passports and/or ID cards will, of course, be passive. And like any other technology, the scanners will get stronger and cheaper as they are developed.

No, I don't think every private business (e.g. a bar) is going to have a scanner, but think about identity theft for one thing - $40K is not really that much money.

And travelling through airports is different - we have already accepted that the government is going to know where we are going and where we have been. But the DHS is another story: there are no real controls on the DHS that limit what they can do.

Here is my thing. Just accept for a moment that our government has started down a fascist-like path. We've got these RFID chips, we're emitting a frequency and we are identifiable at a distance, even if it is only 20 feet. If you are suspected of being a dissident, the DHS is going to put a little extra effort into knowing where you are, what you are doing, with whom you are meeting, etc. and that chip has just made it that much easier. Maybe it sounds far-fetched to you at this point, but it is a real danger and it is a genuine concern.

Skeeter said...

Oh I definitely accept that we've been going down a fascist path for over 50 years now, if not before.

I agree too, we should always be concerned about gubment knowing our business.

I agree about identity theft, that is a huge concern. Although you could get "card holders" that block any RF from getting to your card, the fact is you shouldn't have to worry about that.

I doubt private business would be too concerned with people walking outside their building, only when they walk in, and even then they'd focus on past purchases and stuff.

And I think we should be concerned about this subject, I really do, I just want the concern to be focused on the issue of privacy and not the technology.
You see there are legitimate and very good uses for it, but when people start to equate technology with "bad" or "evil", everybody suffers (not that you were doing that or anything).
Thats why I posted my comment.
Thanks for the opportunity as always. ;)

Monkey's Max said...

Skeeter, of course the issue is privacy. I am not frightened by the technology on its own. I am bothered by what uses it will be put to. And I am most bothered by our liberties being chipped away at.

Anyway, I think we agree so I will leave it here. Thanks for coming by, it's always a pleasure.