UK to test RFID-tagged license plates
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  UK to test RFID-tagged license plates

Vermont Guardian | August 18, 2005

LONDON — Tracking of vehicles with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on licenses is about to be tested in Great Britain, and the U.S. government and businesses are watching closely as they consider the idea, Wired magazine reported last week. The high-tech license plates will contain microchips capable of transmitting unique vehicle identification numbers and other data to readers more than 300 feet away.

"We definitely have an interest in testing an RFID-tagged license plate," said Jerry Dike, chairman of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and director of the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division of the Texas Department of Transportation.

The U.K. Department for Transport gave the official go-ahead last week, and the trial is expected to begin later this year. But the government has been tight-lipped about the details.

So-called "active" RFID tags have built-in batteries, allowing them to broadcast data much farther than the small, passive tags used to track inventory at retail stores. The tags are already in limited use on U.S. roadways, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is issuing them to foreign freight and passenger vehicles as they enter the country.

The technology is also used in U.S. electronic toll-collection systems to automatically charge participating drivers who use unstaffed toll booths. In the San Francisco Bay Area, FasTrak toll transponders determine how quickly traffic is moving.

Proponents argue that making RFID tags mandatory is not only a logical move to guard against terrorists using the roadways, but also will help to catch insurance and registration scofflaws. However, since RFID plates can cost 10 times more than ordinary plates, the idea will need strong support from governors and state legislatures.

Privacy advocates like Jim Harper, director of information studies at libertarian Cato Institute and a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, warn that, "It's too easy for (RFID license plates) to become a back-door surveillance tool."

Civil libertarians don't oppose an RFID automatic toll-collection system that guarantees anonymity, but doubt that the government will accept privacy protection measures. From a law enforcement perspective, "there is no reason to have privacy for anything," said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.



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