Schneier on Security
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April 8, 2005
Texas Cars with RFID Chips?
Posted on April 8, 2005 at 1:20 PM
• 19 Comments
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"He wants to put a "tamper-resistant transponder," in other words, a RFID, in Texans' vehicle registration stickers."
In other words not tamper-resistant as they may think... nothing a little see-through mylar piece of a tape wouldn't stop if someone decided to get creative...
Time for the ministry of privacy.
minicy for short.
Always thought Orwell's 1984 was fiction. Who'da guessed?
Fiction? It's been happening around us ever so slowly for years now.
But on the flip side - now that we have automatic license plate recognition - how is that different from license plates?
Everyone can record the license plate much like everyone can record the RFID, the only difference is the wavelength used... in fact, this way you can know someone is polling your car's RFID by listening on the RFID activation frequency.
The part that worries me is the tracking aspect. Speeding tickets by mail? That'll be a disaster. Tracking your movements without a warrant? More fun.
What do we have to fear about this? So long as we aren't doing anything wrong or illegal, why worry?
This is a worrying development. It's highly questionable what right the state has to be registering motor vehicles in the first place. License plates themselves are an invasion of privacy, as has been rightly observed, forcing law-abiding citizens to be numbered like common criminals.
It would make far more sense from a freedom perspective to have unregistered vehicles, as they do in many parts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is a usual, albeit erroneous, way of thinking: "I'm not illegal, so I have nothing to worry about. Right ?"
The ability for someone, somewhere to track your movements is too valuable. If there is a reason, it will be used. And a good reason could be a generous bribe to a goverment employee from a competitor of yours.
Ok, this is a case of the utility of the action being questionable since the usefulness of the item to the common citizen (but not to the government juggernaut) is limited. License plates are actually useful to the common citizen--my mother for instance whom owns a common Make/Model car and needs to know that it is indeed her car that she is trying to open the drivers' side door to.
Sure, from a "freedom" perspective it makes sense to have complete autonomy and no automotive registration. The very same kind of perspective is being used right now to claim that we don't need a "saftey net" to protect families from extreme poverty and disease. Indeed the logical extension (although perverse as it sounds) of this ideal of autonomy is to have no government at all and to rely on one's clan (family) for everything--including justice.
We did that in the past, it didn't work too well. Neither has the idea of Ultra-Nationalism worked all that well (and it spawns its own evils, like racism, and various corrupted socialsims and marxisms). Classicism is still left here in the USA to a small extent (by comparison to the fuedalism of midevil England), and racism isn't gone either--both side effects of autonomy gone wrong.
Remember, effective and just government is a balancing act of utility: "Is what I'm going to give to the whole worth what I get as an individual?" In this case it just isn't worth what you'll pay for it.
From personal experience I know an individual that owns an exact make/model/color vehicle that a co-worker owns. Their plates are both prominently 3 feet off the ground. However I continually see this individual trying to open the wrong vehicle. I even developed a system to identify their own vehicle by usage of the license plate(last digit being prime) difference. They still walk to the wrong vehicle even though they may have parked theirs somewhere else earlier that day.
Perhaps I can use this reasoning to feel that license plates (issued by the state and non personalized) do not give the user a benefit. Even perhaps for users that purchase vanity plates to further pronounce their existence and differ from others that do not have vanity plates may not be using their license plate as a quick way to find their vehicle when in a hurry. At most they are useful in crimes and accidents if a witness happens to be looking at a vehicle, and the vehicle isn't using a stolen plate.
It is simply a "number" to represent an identity. This "number" is mostly used by policing and monitoring systems. It is only a matter of time before these numbers become abstracted from the vehicle itself... surprisingly they never jumped to barcoding systems.
Let's not give a face to a tool that is there to keep an eye on us. ...because it is just that. At best it is a freedom from being constantly pulled over and questioned since policing/monitoring systems can do this remotely without casting big brother's shadow.
I'm glad that your paranoia has overwhelmed your good common sense. It gives me the opportunity to point out that tracking somebody meerly by their license plate can be a pain in the ass for law enforcement--and for common stalkers. There is good reason to allow law enforcement to track vehicles (when the safety of the locals warrants it)--but at the same time automating the process takes away the effort factor, encouraging abuse. This is the whole idea behind forcing the government to release people (here in the USA, historically anyway) that it doesn't have the evidence to hold. It makes them (the workers of law enforcement) work for it--decreasing the chances that somebody will get away with abusing the system by making the effort they put into doing so all the more public in nature. And that is the key--that the action is public in nature--which protects the autonomy of the random individual.
It is the secret nature of various actions (including the anonymous monitoring of RFID tags) which threatens the autonomy of individuals while providing NO PUBLICALLY ACCOUNTABLE QUANTIFIABLE BENEFIT to fulfill the requirement that whenever an individual gives something up they get something back of equal value--and that we are able to prove it to ourselves without unreasonable trouble.
Now as for your example, unlike the rules of logical arguement used in mathematics--in the nexus of philisophical reasoning and public policy one counter-example is often not enough to prove that something isn't so. I will, however, take your example and make note of it.
Remember, so long as it is a pain to keep track of individuals it will not be done frivolously. There are too many of us. The other thing that needs to be done is for it to be possible to know whom is watching us. That is why the license plate isn't nearly as big a deal as RFID. I can tell is somebody is following me (should I care to pay attention, it is in fact reasonably obvious in all but the most advanced cases--an arguement for another day), but I cannot tell if I am being tracked in a classified database somewhere. That is the issue. There is no utility to the average law abiding citizen to have their law abiding neighbors tracked by non-public means. It is a balnace.
Remember, extreme autonomy causes abuse of ones neighbors (clan warfare, etc) and the lack of reasonable autonomy damages the ability of individuals to preseve that autonomy. If we do not know that our autonomy is being infringed (license plate: we know, RFID: the average person doesn't know, nor do they have any idea how it may work and who may "see" it) then we cannot comment on this infringement nor can we control it. That is where my argument lies.
"but I cannot tell if I am being tracked in a classified database somewhere. That is the issue. There is no utility to the average law abiding citizen to have their law abiding neighbors tracked by non-public means."
The average private citizen also has no utility to use in regards to tracking license plates or linking plates with drivers, owners, etc. An abstracted database is no different.
Btw, interestingly enough I feel that I am providing more common sense than paranoia.
The next time you can tell me that the license plate was not an available tool for tracking down an actual criminal or stolen property I will buy your argument. The next time you can tell me that a car's VIN isn't useful information to people other than the government and your insurance provider I may listen. The next time you can tell me that dental records are not useful to help identify "Jane Doe" and to bring her murderer to justice you may have an issue worth talking about.
So long as you believe that the only use of identification is for people to persecute you nobody will take you seriously. I personally have no use for the plate number of an intoxicated driver--but I do have use for a police officer whom has been properly authorized to apprehend that individual and to make the road that much more safe for me to use by knowing that plate number. That is what we pay taxes for (something else which I'm sure that you'd deem unnecessary).
The fact is that much of what we do today depends on one person being able to prove that they are who they are, and for the group (the government in many cases) to prove the same thing. Think about it.
Hmm, there appears to be a disconnect with your argument.
Police != Average Private Citizen
The average private citizen does not have the same tools someone working at the dmv, or the local precinct may have.
This means that anyone without special powers cannot logon to the Internet or walk to the local library and look up the VIN, or vehicle license, (or even dental records) up to tie it to a user. This pretty much would be the same with an abstracted database number.
Just in case you aren't sure what you are arguing against I will quote it below:
"Ok, this is a case of the utility of the action being questionable since the usefulness of the item to the common citizen (but not to the government juggernaut) is limited"
Where I am stating that there really is no difference between a license plate being on a car or it being abstracted into the vehicle by some manner. This is based on the premise that neither make it available for the average private citizen to casually look up in any publically available database.
There is no need to buy anything... in fact my "argument" really isn't anything other than trying to explain to you what you are saying is not true.
Why should something need to be useful to me directly to benefit me?
Where do we draw the line between public identification (which the individual being identified can look at) from secret identification (which the individual identified cannot view)?
Well if it is useful to you, then it may benefit you. If it is not then it may not. However you should probably be interested when something is not benefiting you and you are stuck paying for it (via taxation, extended laws, etc.). That is most likely when questions are raised about.
In regards to identification protocol information should be available to those that require it for "society" to remain in a "state of peace", or at least that is what we are lead to believe.
It is against the law to drive on Texas streets. A license, by definition, is a temporary and individually issued permit to do something that is otherwise illegal. Personal rights do not aply when you are doing something illegal regardless if you have a pass( a license) to do so. This is why police can search on the road, for example.
tracking people using license plates is not a pain in the ass at all for police. a device has been created that can read several hundred license plates per second and compare them to a database. this is no bullshit. google it.
My family is a victim of a crime and we believe a dangerous felon wants to track us down and kill us. All of these big-brother tracking schemes create data bases of our movements and locations that can be accessed by any private eye who has a friend in the police department ; FBI; or government. There are tens of thousands of innocent victims whose safety is placed at risk by these tracking and registration schemes.
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