US rolls out 'Vicinity RFID' to check IDs in moving vehicles

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Mon Nov 24 07:53:01 PST 2008

US rolls out 'Vicinity RFID' to check IDs in moving vehicles

...From 20-30 feet. But your data is safe, honest...

By John Lettice b" Get more from this author

Posted in Government, 24th November 2008 12:50 GMT

RFID technology that allows the remote identification of travellers in moving
vehicles is being rolled out at US land border crossings this month. Crossing
points with Canada at Blaine, and with Mexico at Nogales, came online last
week, with Buffalo, Detroit and San Ysidro to follow, and a total of 39

The system uses the US PASSport (People, Access Security Service) card, which
is intended to operate within the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)
for US citizens entering the US via land and sea ports. Using "Vicinity RFID"
it can read the cards from a healthy skimming distance of 20-30 feet, but
according to the Department of Homeland Security this isn't a problem. The
RFID chip on the card doesn't contain any personal information, only a unique
identification number, and skimmers wouldn't have access to the data the
number matches up with.

The system is intended to work like this. As a vehicle approaches the border
post, the numbers of the cards inside it are read, and pictures and data on
the holders are called up from a database. Then, presumably, the immigration
officers check the faces of the passengers to make sure they match, and bust
any who happen to be flagged as terrorists or loose criminals.

In addition to the PASSport card, some US states are beginning to issue
Enhanced Driver's Licence/ID cards (EDL/ID), which have the PASSport RFID
functionality added to a standard driver's license. These can also be used
for land or sea entry to the US, but neither variety of card is valid
elsewhere, or for WHTI air travel into the US. Obviously, they'd only be of
any use at anybody else's border post if there were compatible readers there,
and if the US had kindly shared its ID database with the relevant country.

So it's an internal passport system, one that's entirely incompatible with
the biometric ID system that the US has gone to such pains to get the world
to adopt. Were they only kidding, then? 

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