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Originally published July 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 19, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Privacy concerns attached to RFID tags

Experts today will explore the technology's impact on security issues.

Seattle Times business reporter

They're in your car if you cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge using the electronic toll option and in your driver's license if you sign up for new "enhanced" Washington state licenses and ID cards that can be used to travel to Canada.

They are tiny radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags the size of a computer chip used to hold and transmit information from a distance.

Their use is growing to encompass not only clothing tags and payment cards, but also many transportation systems.

Today the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the University of Washington law school's Shidler Center for Law, Commerce and Technology, is sponsoring a roundtable to discuss privacy and security issues around RFID.

The tags promise convenient access through checkpoints of all kinds, but they lack safeguards to protect unauthorized reading and collection of personal information, the ACLU contends.

As a result, using them in transportation and identity documents could expose people to identity theft, tracking and surveillance.

Christina Drummond, director of the Washington state ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project, likens it to wearing a tattoo with a bar code on your wrist to board a bus or ferry, or carrying a lighted sign on top of your head that says, "I am an American," to go through airport immigration and customs.

Without legislation to safeguard privacy, the benefits of RFID technology will come at too high a cost to civil liberties, privacy advocates contend.

State government, academic and community leaders will participate today, including Gaetano Borriello and Evan Welbourne from UW's Department of Computer Science & Engineering; Antonio Ginatta, executive policy adviser to Gov. Christine Gregoire; and state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes, chairman of the House Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.

The roundtable will be from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at William H. Gates Hall, Room 133 and is open to the public. Registration is at www.law.washington.edu/lct/events/rfid/.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

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