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California Tables Plans For RF Enhanced Driver's License

EDLs contain a RFID chip and let you rapidly re-enter the U.S. at a land border without needing a passport. Proponents in California want to alleviate congestion at the Mexico border. Opponents worry about privacy. Larry Greenemeier reports.

The California state senate recently passed a bill to offer driver’s licenses embedded with radio-frequency ID chips. It would have made California the first state bordering Mexico to offer so-called Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, EDLs. But the state’s Assembly Appropriations Committee shelved those plans. 

EDLs let you rapidly reenter the U.S. at a land border without needing a passport. They’re already available in Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington. The California committee ostensibly put its EDL plan on ice because they didn’t want to pay a few million dollars a year for it.

Legislators favoring EDLs said they would alleviate border congestion, which a US–Mexico chamber of commerce member says “has reached intolerable and inhumane levels.”

Opponents objected to giving the government yet another way to track our movements. The RFID chip can be read dozens of feet away without an individual’s knowledge or consent, according to the ACLU.

It’s another case of technology being used to offer people a tradeoff between privacy and convenience. One thing California’s EDL plan had going for it: at least it would have been voluntary.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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