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EFFector - Volume 17, Issue 11 - EFF Opposes Radio Tracking Technology, Biometrics in Passports


EFFector - Volume 17, Issue 11 - EFF Opposes Radio Tracking Technology, Biometrics in Passports

EFFector       Vol. 17, No. 11       March 31, 2004

A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation     ISSN 1062-9424

In the 283rd Issue of EFFector:

EFF Opposes Radio Tracking Technology, Biometrics in Passports

EFF joined Privacy International, the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations from all around the world this week in opposing a plan to embed radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs) in passports. The new passport standard, developed on behalf of world governments by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), would also include "biometric identifiers" such as facial maps, and, potentially, fingerprints.

Supported by the U.S and E.U. governments, the standard would ultimately create an electronic ID system on hundreds of millions of travelers. Despite serious implications for privacy and personal security, the ICAO process is occurring without public engagement or debate.

"In January 2004, when the U.S. began fingerprinting and face- scanning foreign visitors and storing this data for over 50 years under the US-VISIT program, many countries responded with alarm," said Dr. Gus Hosein, a senior fellow with Privacy International. "With the biometric passport, however, every country may have its own surveillance system, accumulating fingerprints and face-scans and keeping them for as long as they wish with no regard to privacy or civil liberties."

EFF signed an open letter asking the ICAO to reject the new standard unless or until the organization:

  • Follows through on earlier promises to review the privacy implications of biometrics and trans-border personal information transfers;
  • Releases clear and binding privacy requirements that will reduce the risks of illegal collection, use, retention and transfers of this information;
  • Upholds national data protection laws or cultural practices, as previously promised;
  • Prevents, by design or biometric selection, the development of biometric databases; and
  • Evaluates fully the standard's privacy and surveillance implications, as well as explores alternatives with less potential for privacy invasion or other abuse by surveillance agencies.

Open letter to the ICAO:
(Privacy International; PDF)

Privacy International media release:
(Privacy International)

More information about RFIDs:

Let the Sun Set on PATRIOT - Sections 201 and 805: "Authority to Intercept Wire, Oral and Electronic Communications Relating to Terrorism" and "Material Support for Terrorism"

Apologists justified the broad, civil-liberties corroding powers granted to the government under the USA PATRIOT Act by arguing that they would be used to put terrorists behind bars. Yet several provisions can be used against Americans in a wide range of investigations that have nothing to do with terrorism. Others are too vague, jeopardizing legitimate activities protected under the First Amendment. Worse, the Department of Justice has worked to expand and/or make permanent a number of these provisions - despite the fact that they were sold to the public as "temporary" measures and are scheduled to expire, or "sunset," in December of 2005.

Each week, we profile one of the 13 "sunsetting" provisions, explaining in plain language what's wrong with the provision and why Congress should allow it to expire. This week we look at Section 201. This provision, in combination with Section 805 (which does not sunset), makes it so the FBI can get a wiretap to listen in on your private conversations based on your association with an organization classified by the U.S. government as "terrorist" - whether or not the organization engages in legitimate political advocacy or humanitarian work. An example of such an organization is the anti-apartheid African National Congress, which was designated a "terrorist" organization before apartheid was defeated. This profile is a special case: EFF objects to Section 201 only to the extent that it authorizes wiretapping to investigate violations of Section 805. We don't necessarily oppose the renewal of Section 201 - as long as Section 805 is repealed.

How PATRIOT Sections 201 and 805 Changed the Law

The FBI can wiretap your phone, or "bug" your house or office, only when investigating the most serious crimes. PATRIOT 201 made a number of additions to the list of crimes that can justify such police surveillance, including one brand new crime created by PATRIOT Section 805: providing "material support" to terrorist organizations in the form of "expert advice or assistance." This section, which does not sunset, could criminalize a broad range of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Why Section 805 Should Be Repealed

Section 805 makes it a crime to offer "expert advice and assistance" to any foreign organization that the Secretary of State has designated as "terrorist." But, as we note above, many of these "terrorist" organizations also advocate for, and provide humanitarian assistance to, their constituents. Yet PATRIOT makes it illegal to offer expert advice and assistance even for these legal, non-terrorist activities.

A humanitarian social worker training Hamas members how to care for civilian children orphaned in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could be sent to prison. So could a lawyer teaching IRA members about international law. Section 805 even extends to people engaged in activities to *discourage* terrorism, such as those offering training in effective peace negotiations or how to petition the United Nations regarding human rights abuses.

One federal court has already ruled that PATRIOT Section 805 is unconstitutional, since the vague terms "expert advice and assistance" could criminalize the First Amendment-protected activities described above. Yet the law is still in force throughout most of the U.S.


EFF supports the repeal of Section 805, which could unconstitutionally criminalize the exercise of your First Amendment rights. We also support the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE Act, S 1709/HR 3352) and encourage you to visit EFF's Action Center today to let your representatives know you support the bill:

Next Week

We'll look at Sections 202 and 217, which strengthened the FBI's ability to investigate computer crimes wholly unrelated to terrorism.

For this analysis:

Previously profiled sections:

EFF's Deep Links - The Weblog

EFF today debuts "Deep Links," a new group weblog that answers the burning question: What is EFF talking about today? Deep Links will feature daily pointers to the news articles and weblog posts sparking our interest, as well as provide you with a bit of on-the-fly commentary to help contextualize issues.

We're also debuting "miniLinks" - a weblog featuring the shorter, one-or-two-sentence pointers EFFector readers have come to know and love as "Deep Links" (now going by the new name, "miniLinks"). Authored by EFF Activist Ren Bucholz, miniLinks will give you a constant stream of news on EFF issues - and a preview of what you'll see featured in each week's EFFector.

Drop by and check them out!

Deep Links:



miniLinks features noteworthy news items from around the Internet.

Staff Calendar

For a complete listing of EFF speaking engagements (with locations and times), please visit the full calendar.

  • April 6 -

    Fred von Lohmann speaks at Columbia University Law School New York, NY
    12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.


EFFector is published by:

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Donna Wentworth, Web Writer/Activist

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