Keeping Track of Trusted Travelers


I continue to be a little surprised by the incredibly rapid spread of RFID technology. I guess a story like this datelined yesterday is inherently questionable, but it seems legit: ComputerWorld reports on Transportation Security Agency plans to attach RFID tags to "trusted travelers" boarding passes.

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  1. Implants only. Anything else too easy to steal.

  2. Implants only. Anything else too easy to steal.

  3. Implants only. Anything else too easy to steal.

  4. As one columnist pointed out, any environment in which the police are entrusted to craft security policies rather than elected officials is bound to lead to a deterioration in civil liberties. It’s quite hard to see the guys on Capitol Hill, even the ones we have now, passing a bill granting authorities the power to wirelessly track civillians in a public setting – if nothing else, the outcry resulting from the media’s coverage of the bill would put a halt to the endeavor.

    But the TSA? Their mindset doesn’t allow them to think twice about it. The potential safety benefit of a policy, no matter how marginal relative to the civil liberties damage, is all that registers. The same holds true for the DOJ.

  5. They already have RFID implants. Not only that, they even have an implant van.

    BTW, did you know that sometimes slogans – if they get repeated enough – can lose their trademark status and become derogatory phrases? If you didn’t know that, go get chipped, a-hole.

  6. Q:How long will it take for hackers to figure a way to fake a “trusted traveler” RFID?

    A:Not long

    Q: How long will it take for a terrorist to use “trusted” status, acquired through hacking or through other means to kill people?

    A: Not long

  7. Lonewacko,
    I guess it would be too nazi of the TSA to offer the “bar code tattoo express lane.”

    However, getting chipped has that certain ring to it.

    TSA Agent: “Ahhh, late for your flight? Too bad, shoulda got chipped! Now back in line, a-hole!”

  8. The state will be able to recognize “potential troublemakers” by their tinfoil hats.

  9. Man oh Man, Lonewacko, you’re a STAR —

    You’ve spotted a topic of endless high entertainment value for at least the next decade to come. In fact, we’ve already started sliding on the slippery slope. Implant IDs for pets are already happening (though I doubt they’re distributing them with mobile vans yet).

    When I got a min schnauzer puppy about a year ago, she came with an implant ID (I think in her left haunch). There’s some sort of central registry of the codes — probably cooked up by the folks at the American Kennel Club to protect against weak-linage males being passed off as descendants of champion studs, or valuable bitches being stolen. Kind of like race horses having their lips tatooed to keep “ringers” out of stakes races. I didn’t pay much attention to Nadya’s chip, since I don’t think any of those situations is likely to apply to either me or my adorable but eminently NON-showable puppy.

    Now if an implant chip had a GPS element, I bet a lot of pet owners would jump at chipping to avoid heart-rending posters on telephone poles of “have you seen Spot…”

    Just a matter of time before paranoid parents decide to chip their kids to keep them off milk cartons. And the first thing the lawyer representing a parent with custody in a messy divorce will advise is *get those kids of yours chipped!*

    And then chips will replace wristband IDs for newborns. Imagine the size of a jury award if a baby was stolen out of a hospital that hadn’t opted for a GPS-linked ID chip that was available on the market! Would the cost of chipping a baby be covered by the mother’s health insurance? And what if the mother didn’t have insurance?! Will chipping your kid be a matter for the feds (interstate commerce, Mann Act law enforcement, Medicaid etc) or a family law matter for the states?

    What if a company develops a way to chip someone without their knowledge — might put a bunch of private eyes out of business. The spouse who wants the goods on his/her life partner could just order a chip installation and tracking system on the internet.

    Would surriptitous chipping done by the gov’t have to meet the same standards and procedures as getting authorization for wiretaps? Homeland Security and DoJ would love it — at *immigration* we could chip everybody entering the country instead of taking fingerprints that are messy and not as easily searchable as a chip ID code. (BTW the new fingerprint reqirement is going to be extended to visitors from US allies like Britain. I can hear the howls already). And instead of working on the current “honor system,” we could keep track of foreign students who overstay their visas!

    How ’bout a limited life chip that “expires” after a certain period, like trial software with a 30-day license? Or it gets automatically deactivated if you leave a job where you go in and out of building with a wave of your chipped shoulder.

    We’d have to make sure the chip was tamper-proof or couldn’t be forged — we’d need some sort of verification or certification mechanism, right? And that means standards (industry or gov’t) and agencies or “non-profits” to ensure standards are met, how to handle innovations, etc etc.

    And then we have a whole other area to exploit — thought control. The poor people who hear radios in their heads when they don’t take their medication might have a legitimate complaint about hearing voices.

    These are just the off-the-top-of-the-head scenarios that occurred to me in about 2 minutes. Clearly, the technological, bioscience, marketing, political hand-wringing and regulatory possibilities are almost endless!

    If I were policy entrepreneur, I’d have visions dancing in my head of building a juicy career on just this one suggestion of yours. If some reader launches a “chipping policy” think tank, would you insist on a “cut” of the take, or just settle for attribution?

    Hit & Run owes you more than a tip of the hat on this one!

  10. My appology for the triplicate. Nadez, you should get with Larry Nivin and flesh your story out.

  11. For a bunch of big brains, y’all sure don’t seem to know much about RFID. There are two kinds of RFID chips – active and passive. Active chips broadcast – they are large (with some internal battery power source), and very trackable. Passive chips are tiny, and detectable by scans, from a distance of several feet, no more. There are no details about the program planned by TSA in that story, but I’d suspect they are talking about passive RFID, which is cheap and easy to implement, with fewer externalities. If they aren’t talking passive, well, that may be a problem, but either way it is probably a bit too soon to break into the stockpiles of bottled water and shotgun shells.

    A number of corporate retail giants have started switching over to using an RFID-based inventory tracking system. Moving goods in and out of a warehouse is a lot easier when you don’t have to punch in the ID number on a laptop, or slow down long enough to scan a barcode.

    I have trouble seeing how a passive RFID chip would be a civil liberties disaster – most of the airlines I travel on already scan my barcoded boarding pass at least once or twice before I get on the plane. Never mind that they have my credit information, my identification information, and a record of my travel habits and persons I’ve traveled with. My luggage tags are also bar coded, I notice. Passive RFID could reduce the hassle of flying – especially if I didn’t have to stand in line to get the boarding pass scanned at the entrance to the secure area, and then again during boarding. Likewise, I would appreciate automatic sorting of my bag, based on a passive RFID chip in the tag. It would make things go a lot better, seeing as how my bags seem to get misdirected about every third or fourth time I fly.

    Active RFID chips, on the other hand – I could see those posing a civil liberties problem. Nobody wants their movement tracked by a broadcasting airline ticket.

  12. Stephen: They “lose” your luggage 25% of the time? Perhaps the airlines do not approve of your travel companions, credit habits, or lineage. At that loss rate, somebody is trying to tell you something…

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