R. Fink | The Packet Rat: Hammer time for electronic IDs

As any 6-foot-tall anthropomorphic rodent can tell you, identity is essential to modern existence. The difference between being a financially secure, contributing member of society and a pauper terrorist on the way to Gitmo is increasingly measured by a thin piece of plastic.

'If it weren't for my government employee identification, I would have been glue-trapped a long time ago,' the Rat reflected as he read through the latest news on the Homeland Security Department's various ID programs.

Betwixt TWIC, Sentri, FAST and Real ID, just to name a few, no agency has more acronyms and buzzwords wrapped around tracking identity than the Homies.

And every single one of them is fraught with some sort of controversy. Even the'theoretically'least ornery of these, TWIC (the Transportation Workers Identity Credential) is being criticized for a perceived lack of, for lack of a better word, 'robustness.'

Of course, the really bad ID buzz remains around the new passports being issued by the State Department. The radio frequency identification passports have been criticized as potential identity theft goldmines, opening up travelers to possible attacks and exposure of personal data.

"Many privacy advocates have decided that the best way to deal with the vulnerability is with hardware of their own ' of the Iron Age variety."

And many privacy advocates have decided the best way to deal with that vulnerability is with hardware of their own'of the Iron Age variety. The Web is replete with advice on how to keep personal data secure by judicious use of a hammer.

Wired magazine recently ran an article for the paranoid, advising readers that if they wanted to keep themselves secure, 'Hitting the chip with a blunt, hard object should disable it. A nonworking RFID doesn't invalidate the passport, so you can still use it.' The article DID mention that intentionally tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison ' but, hey, who's to say what 'intentionally' means, anyway?

The privacy vigilantes are equally concerned about the potential threat from Real ID, the driver's license standard that Congress made law in 2005 and which takes effect in 2008. Some states are resisting the law, mostly because it is, as Maine House majority leader Hannah Pingree calls it, a 'massive, unfunded federal mandate.' And, oh yeah, there's that RFID thing, too.

Maine last month voted to reject the Real ID standards, mostly because of the financial burden they create. But the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for other states to follow Maine's example, and at least 12 more states are looking at similar legislative acts of resistance. It's just a matter of time before people in other states start looking at how to disable their Real ID data to keep themselves secure.

Of course, they could always just wrap their driver's licenses and passports in aluminum foil. 'Turns out, the guy down the street with the tinfoil hat was right,' the furry one cackled to his co-workers as they performed tests in their own RFID lab.

So, if individuals and states all take hammers, actual and metaphorical, to federal ID programs, what can be done to keep the terrorists at bay? 'I know!' cried one of the Rat's minions. 'Mandatory barcode tattoos!'

The wirebiter narrowed his eyes, and reached for a permanent marker. 'OK, let's test that solution,' he said coolly. 'Let's try one on your forehead.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected]


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