RFID Comes to New York State Driver's Licenses

By Donald Sears  |  Posted Wednesday, September 17, 2008 21:09 PM

The borders of New York have become easier to cross by car or cruise ship. The state of New York has made available new RFID-enabled driver's licenses--Enhanced Driver License or EDL-- that allow U.S. citizens of the state to not have to use a passport for border crossings among the immediate North American neighbors and 17 countries in the Caribbean.

The DMV, assessing the benefits, says these ID cards will kill a number of inconvenient birds with one mobile ID stone: "The documents also speed border crossing, cost less than a passport and fit in your wallet." These do not replace passports, but appear to be a way for the state to possibly build up New York state's homeland security database. New York wasn't the first state to attempt something like this, but it appears to be the first to make something actually happen.

A few little things come to mind about these:


-Fakes -How they will be used down the road

The DMV says on its FAQ site-- in black, bold letters-- that there is no personal identifiable information within these RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip cards. So we should have little to worry about, right? These licenses are using optical character recognition with a machine-readable zone to match and verify the unique ID assigned.

From the FAQ section on the New York DMV site:

An EDL or ENDID is an approved travel identification document for land and sea border crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, and an EDL is also a driver license. AN EDL or ENDID is not acceptable for air travel between these countries ... There is no personal identification information recorded on the RFID tag. The RFID tag contains only a unique number assigned to the tag that will verify issuance of the document to one individual.

These IDs/driver's licenses are good for domestic air travel, much like current New York state driver's licenses, but only cost an additonal $30 on top of the normal license cost. It appears that one of the key motivations for this initiative is economic. Read what one official had to say about it in the recent state release:

Michael Balboni, Governor Paterson's Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, said: "The Enhanced Driver License program achieves the appropriate balance between security and the economy. In partnership with Canada, the EDL will permit the safe flow of people across our mutual border. In doing so, New York is recognizing its vital relationship with Quebec and Ontario, while implementing real steps to mitigate a vulnerability cited by the 9/11 Commission report. New York was one of the first states in the nation to adopt this program and Governor Paterson should be congratulated for his leadership."

State residents are not required to obtain one, and as an N.Y. state resident myself, I almost never head to Canada and I despise cruises. I don't have a real problem using my passport, so I don't plan to get one. But I can see a lot of border crossers, truck drivers and cruise junkies getting them. I wonder if we are inching closer to a national ID database for homeland security? I think, ultimately, that will depend on who is elected in November.

One more thing: For those Big Applers who are worried about their patriotism being questioned, these new ID cards have a U.S. flag on them.

For more background on the evolution of the Enhanced Driver License, the Real ID Act and national ID cards, see Baseline's archived coverage.

Also, be sure to read this eWEEK article from earlier in 2008: DHS Hands Down Final Real ID Regulations.