DMV putting SmarTrip chips in DC driver’s licenses: A convenience or a privacy violation?

Today’s Examiner has a brief story about the DC DMV’s new initiative to embed SmarTrip chips in D.C. driver’s licenses, starting in 2008. As someone who’s written about privacy invasions and identity theft extensively, this scares the living crap out of me. If you lose one of these new licenses, someone can not only steal your identity, but can use your license to move through the Metro system.

“But you can track them and get your license back,” you say? Right–but that means they can also track you as well. SmarTrip cards are powered by radio-frequency identifier (RFID) microchips, a controversial technology that has many privacy advocates worried about a potential future where our movements can be tracked from stem to stern. Any data encoded about you on the chip that can be read by an RFID reader is fair game. A pilot program in a United Kingdom school has set up students’ uniforms to include RFID chips in order to track their movements, for example. Creepy, to say the least.

While I’m all in favor of anything that helps modernize the DMV and reduces our absurd levels of travel congestion around the region, the idea of consolidating our many different forms of ID into one may have more risks than rewards. I’ll be looking into this program further and checking out just what kinds of data WMATA actually keeps on people, and how easily this stuff can be put together into a full-fledged profile.

What do you, the DC blogerati, think? Is it a smart move to make life easier, or a scenario out of “1984?”

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