Do Not Walk, California—Run from Enhanced Drivers’ Licenses



If you are unfamiliar with California’s new Enhanced Drivers’ License or EDL, CATO Institute has studied it and provided some information for you. I think the key takeaways from the CATO post are:

1. There is no limit to the information on you that the State of California can add to these cards in the future, to include things like health history, gun ownership and anything else state bureaucrats can think up.

2. The card will have active RFID chips which can be fished by nearby RFID readers for either legal or nefarious reasons. Even the Department of Homeland Security has identified that RFID is not recommended to safeguard secure information. One can see how dangerous it can be to walk around with an unsecured RFID card in your pocket that holds virtually all information on you.

The only advantage to having the Enhanced Drivers’ License (EDL) is making it quicker to go across the Mexico, Canada or other Western Hemisphere borders. It may be advisable to just keep your “normal” California Drivers’ License and keep your passport in a safe somewhere.


As early as next week, the California State Senate could vote on S.B. 397, a hitherto little-noticed bill that approves “enhanced drivers’ licenses” in California. The bill’s ostensible purpose is to bring California’s licenses up to the standards set by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which mandated the use of a passport or “enhanced driver’s license” for sea and land crossings in 2008 within continental North America and the Caribbean. (Air travel still requires the use of a passport.) WHTI was and still is a paragon ofcostly overreaction to terrorism.

What’s “enhanced” about an “enhanced driver’s license”? It contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, which in turn contains a personal identification number. Think of it as your Department of Homeland Security tracking number. The RFID chip broadcasts the information to any receiver that properly interrogates it. At the Canadian and Mexican border, this in theory allows for quicker transit and passage through EDL-specific “Ready Lanes.” The receiver pulls up information held in a DHS database, including identity data, the bearer’s picture, and signature. (Unsurprisingly, the bill reserves the right for the state to include other information in the future, should it deem it to be necessary.) At the border and beyond, it allows pretty much anyone to figure out your comings and goings.

Using RFID in identity documents was identified as a no-no by DHS’s privacy advisory committee in 2006. That doesn’t seem to have stopped the agency from moving forward with it. If S.B. 397 passes, EDLs in California would become legal but optional, as they currently are in New York, Michigan, Vermont, and Washington State. Given the government’s propensity for turning optional pilot programs into permanent mandatory programs (witness the current debate over the 17-year-old E-Verify “pilot progam”), it’s not difficult to imagine a time when the EDL programs cease to be optional—and when EDLs contain information well beyond a picture, a signature, and citizenship status. The government also tends to expand programs far beyond their original purposes.

Californians should not walk—they should run away from “enhanced” driver’s licenses.

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