Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tag Texas Cars with RFIDs? I couldn't make this up if I tried

Texas state Rep. Larry Phillips, a Republican whose district covers Fannin and Grayson counties northeast of Dallas, has proposed HB 2893 that reads like a futuristic scene from science fiction come to life: He wants to put a "tamper-resistant transponder," in other words, a RFID, in Texans' vehicle registration stickers.

You can't say Rep. Phillips doesn't have vision, even if it's an Orwellian one. The bill has an obscure caption, "Relating to a motor vehicle liability insurance compliance program," and was sent to the House Transportation Committee, so it never made it onto my radar screen - it was heard in that committee yesterday, apparently, and left pending. (
Correction: The Transportation committee did not meet yesterday because hearings on the House floor went late, so the bill was not heard.) Our ACLU lege team wouldn't have noticed it at all, but the blogosphere picked up the slack: Slashdot posted on it and has a lengthy discussion. CPunk has more, and Educated Guesswork posted the portion of the bill language on RFIDs.

Enforcing liability insurance requirements and combating toll absconders are the stated reasons for the bill, but the language opens up the whole tracking system for any conceivable law enforcement use. Speeding tickets might be given by mail, for eample, if government may electronically track cars by RFIDs - if the speed limit is 60 mph and you get from one mile marker to the next in 55 seconds, you're busted, under that scenario. Inevitably hand-held devices will be developed to track the transponder signal for a variety of uses, and naturally transponders will become more powerful and transmit over greater distances as technology advances. Once that happens, Texans' cars might one day appear as electronic dots on law enforcement's computer mapping systems.

I've argued before that the Texas Department of Public Safety's proposal to gather biometric facial recognition data on Texans would allow us to be identified and tracked on video. If Mr. Phillips' proposal were enacted, the state could also place RFID detectors at every lamppost and mile marker, tracking your vehicle's movement wherever the technology was installed. Imagine if both those technologies were realized. You'd walk out the door from work , where surveillance cameras inpublic spaces could identify you by name and observe you get into your car. The transponder lets the government track wherever you go, whether to visit your grandmother, secretly visit a gay bar, or drive to a medical specialists office, whatever.

All of this could be legally done without a warrant, since a string of bad Supreme Court decisions has eroded personal privacy in public spaces, but that's another polemic.

I don't know about y'all, but where I grew up folks tagged cattle, not each other. It's none of the government's business where you go unless they have probable cause to believe you did something wrong. We have a freedom to travel and, at least until recently, what was once quaintly known as a "reasonable expectation of privacy." Bills like this would turn that term from a mere anachronism, its current status, to an outright joke. Talk about a slippery slope; this one's starting to get awfully steep.

MORE: Welcome to Nick at the Open Society Paradox whose first offering, in the spirit of the blog he's joining, finds simply incomprehensible why anyone would object to the government installing RFIDs in their car! Also, he points to this story from Computer World, the first MSM coverage I've seen on this blog-broke story, though more attention is coming.

See also the San Antonio Express News coverage.

BILL UPDATE: RFIDs stripped out of committee substitute; still creates government database of insurance customers.


Anonymous said...

A lot of companies in US rely on vehicle tracking and a lot application service providers emerged, such as TrackYourTruck to provide this service to companies.
The service is close to be an utility and the purpose is business only - better logistic equal to better service.
However the fear of losing privacy still remains.

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Anonymous said...

Seems like the circuitry would be pretty delicate to me. I'm thinking that a razor blade cut from corner to corner of the tag once stuck to the window would pretty well disable the device.

As long as this is a "free" country I'll be damned if I'll be ticketed by a device, tracker, camera or other item that cannot PROVE it is me doing the violation.

Moving violations are issued to drivers, NOT vehicles!!! We MUST fight to maintain this distinction!

Anonymous said...

If its in the registration sticker and not the inspection sticker fixing would be easy.

The chips cannot handle strong microwaves. Microwave on high for about two seconds, you should hear a small pop, problem solved.

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