You’ve seen the billboards and heard the public service announcements – time has run out! Starting today you will need a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative compliant document to cross the border.

That means all Michigan residents crossing any land or sea border, including crossing to and from Canada, will be required to produce either a federal passport, a federally issued passcard, or a state issued Michigan Enhanced Driver’s License.

The Michigan Secretary of State has been offering the Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) for a couple of months now and we’ve been sounding the alarm bells since. You see this optional license/ID card will use an unencrypted Radio Frequency Identification chip that contains a unique citizen ID number. RFIDs are tiny computer chips connected to miniature antennae with sufficient capacity to hold an enormous amount of data. These tags can be read by anyone with a reader from 30 feet to a football field away, through your wallet and even walls.

The state could have secured these chips by encrypting them or insisting that they be short-range, but instead they decided to enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that makes it mandatory to have unencrypted long-range chips. You may be asking yourself why -- why would they put our private information at risk?

Their answer is that the card only includes a unique identification number. That’s true, but unfortunately the identification number will become a key, like the current social security number, to unlocking all kinds of information about you.

The EDL is also issued with a protective sleeve to prevent the stealing of information from the unencrypted RFID, but that offers little protection given the frequency with which we are required to produce our driver’s license as a verifying document.

More frightening is that a reader, able to capture the information from your RFID and able to easily clone RFID’s, are readily available and cheap. So, not only can your license be read at a distance by random scanners, there are no laws that prohibit the skimming of information on RFID, nor the use of such information by commercial brokers. By contrast, acknowledging that social security numbers are the key to identity theft, our laws prohibit their publication and criminalize their misuse.

Given the emerging controversy about RFID (Canada has taken a step back to review their use); at the very least the Governor should employ her new Chief Privacy Officer to conduct a review and begin a public debate about the use of RFID. Since the technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, it seems critical that Michigan have laws in place that address and criminalize the misuse of the technology.

By Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan Legislative Director