Short Thought Concerning Enhanced Drivers Licenses

A colleague of mine asked that I write a short post that summarizes the issue and my concerns with the Enhanced Drivers Licenses that Ontario is proposing to implement in the near future. Per his request, I’ll writing this.

Beginning July 1, 2009, the American government will require Canadians and Americans who enter the United States through its land borders to carry either a passport or an ‘enhanced’ identity document. The Ontario government, in response, is preparing to pass Bill 85 – Photo Card Act, which will see the government offer these identity documents to the Ontario public. These identity documents are required to contain a radio frequency identification chip that emits a unique number whenever it is within range of a reader, raising deep concerns surrounding mass surveillance of North American populations. Researchers have consistently proven that the anemic protections suggested by the government, such as placing the identity document in a radio-blocking sleeve, to be relatively ineffective in blocking the interception of the radio’s unique identifier. Further, advocacy groups have noted that it is relatively inexpensive to purchase a reader, raising concerns that non-government bodies and individuals can capture this unique identifier.

In addition to radio tags, enhanced identity documents must contain biometric information that is intended to authenticate a person’s identity. Researchers working in the field of biometrics cannot, as of today, guarantee that biometric evaluation techniques will be wholly successful 100% of the time, thus raising the worry that enhanced identity documents may compound, rather than alleviate, problems at the American borders. Civil liberties associations have raised concerns over the possibilities of misidentification, pointing to the number of false positives on the American ‘no fly’ lists as principle examples of unsuccessful attempts to identify dangerous travelers.

In the cases of both radio tags and biometric data, there exists a serious danger of function creep. As more and more members of the Canadian and American public carry these devices, increased pressures will extend how these documents are used, exceeding their initial purpose of securing American borders.

The Ontario government, to date, has been dismissive of the concerns raised by members of the public, the office of the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner, Canadian civil rights associations, and independent privacy advocates regarding the impacts of Bill 85. The government has refused to amend its proposed legislation in any substantial manner in light of the privacy issues raised by the opposition governments. It has avoided seriously engaging the public, despite the far-reaching effects of altering one of the core identity pieces that Ontarians carry on their person daily. To date, the government has withheld a comprehensive explanation of how much data will be shared with American authorities and has yet to clarify where any shared data will be housed.

In light of these failures, I implore you to sign a statement against Bill 85. Alternately, you can leave a comment here, email me, send me a private message through Facebook letting me know that you support the statement, or directly post your name to the idforum website. Your name will be added to the statement, and noted in a press conference early next week at Queen’s park.