this just in. how far can they go before we're born with chips embedded in our bones? /\/
Brit License Plates Get Chipped
By Mark Baard
02:00 AM Aug. 09, 2005 PT
The British government is preparing to test new high-tech license plates containing microchips capable of transmitting unique vehicle identification numbers and other data to readers more than 300 feet away.
Officials in the United States say they'll be closely watching the British trial as they contemplate initiating their own tests of the plates, which incorporate radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags to make vehicles electronically trackable.
"We definitely have an interest in testing an RFID-tagged license plate," said Jerry Dike, chairman of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and director of the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division of the Texas Department of Transportation.
So-called "active" RFID tags, like the one in the e-Plate made by the U.K. firm Hills Numberplates, have built-in batteries, allowing them to broadcast data much farther than the small passive tags used to track inventory at retail stores.
Active RFID is already enjoying limited use on U.S. roadways. Under a new program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is issuing RFID tags to foreign freight and passenger vehicles as they enter the country.
The technology is also used in electronic toll-collection systems in the United States to automatically charge participating drivers as they breeze past unstaffed toll booths. In the San Francisco Bay Area, FasTrak toll transponders are also polled at readers away from the toll booths, to determine how quickly traffic is moving through particular areas.
Proponents argue that making such RFID tags mandatory and ubiquitous is a logical move to counter the threat of terrorists using the roadways, and that it will scoop up insurance and registration scofflaws in the process.
"We see tremendous advantages to the (e-Plate) for everything from verifying registration and insurance to Amber (missing child) Alerts," said Dike. But because the RFID plates can cost 10 times more than ordinary plates, they will need strong support from governors and state legislatures before they are tested in the states, Dike added. "It will be several years before Texas will be able to test the e-Plate" on any of the 4 million to 4.5 million cars it registers annually.
Privacy advocates are less enthusiastic about the technology.
"It's too easy for (RFID license plates) to become a back-door surveillance tool," said Jim Harper, director of information studies at libertarian think tank the Cato Institute and a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.
Civil libertarians don't object to an RFID automatic toll-collection system that "anonymizes" vehicles in databases once a transaction is completed. But they doubt the government -- given its thirst for intelligence -- will use such privacy-protection measures. From a law-enforcement perspective, "there is no reason to have privacy for anything," said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Active RFID is a huge improvement over cameras that use optical character recognition to read license plates and are accurate only 75 to 90 percent of the time, said Michael Wolf, president of the EVI Management Group.
The U.K. Department for Transport gave the official go-ahead for the microchipped number plates (as they are called in the United Kingdom) last week, and the trial is expected to begin later this year. The government has been tight-lipped about the details. One of the vendors bidding to participate in the trial said it would start with smartplates added to some police cars.
The point of the test is to see whether microchips will make number plates harder to tamper with and clone, said U.K. Department for Transport spokesman Ian Weller-Skitt.
Many commuters use counterfeit plates to avoid the London congestion charge, a fee imposed on passenger vehicles entering central London during busy hours.
== Signature ==
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It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the
people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who
mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good
masters, but they mean to be masters." -- Daniel Webster
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=== J.L.W. ===