The Smart Card Alliance, which represents a plethora of companies and governmental entities with a vested interest in the successful marriage of RFID and technology, has come out with best practice suggestions for companies implementing radio frequency technology in identity management systems.
The goal of the best practice guidelines issued by the Alliance Identity Council—three around security; seven around privacy—is to address concerns, voiced mainly by advocates, about potential citizen protection and rights violations with the use of RFID technology in identification documents.
The questions from security and privacy advocates come at a time of tremendous activity around identification cards and payment systems that utilize RFID technology.
The U.S. State Department is currently issuing RFID-based passports and the Department of Homeland Security is considering two separate initiatives, one for RFID-chipped drivers licenses and another for RFID-chipped national ID cards for people that cross the U.S. borders frequently.
At the same time, many financial institutions are testing contactless smart cards, which are RFID-enabled credit cards (or cell phones, PDAs and key fobs) that enable consumers to pay for goods by simply scanning an RFID chip across a reader.
The Smart Card Alliance—IBM, First Data Corp., Visa USA and Northrop Grumman are among its charter members—goes to some lengths to distance itself from the term RFID (radio-frequency identification). Instead, the group refers to the technology used in identification documents and smart card systems as RF (radio frequency).
"There are a number of RF technologies that vary by frequency, which affects the range of how far [an RFID chip] can be read," said Cathy Medich, manager of Industry Councils, Smart Card Alliance, in Pleasanton, Calif.
"RFID uses tags or labels for tracking objects or animals, or putting RFID chips on products or pallets so retailers can track them. There is very little support for security and tags that can operate up to 25 to 35 feet."
Where RF differs, according to Medich are its security and privacy provisions. "RF has cryptographic capabilities that can be designed to operate at less than four inches. They support electronic signatures and other security [features] and are being used in payment and identity documents that need security," she said.
Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Alliance, explained that the newer RF-enabled documents achieve a two-fold purpose.
"I provides rules for good behavior when using RF-enabled technology in identity management, and clearly delineates the difference between RFID and contactless smart cards that use RF and provide security and privacy protection in identity applications," he said.
The Security Guidelines are as follows:
- Implement security techniques, such as mutual authentication, cryptography and verification of message integrity, to protect identity information throughout the application.
- Implement security techniques, such as mutual authentication of message integrity, to protect identity information throughout the application.
- Ensure protection of all user and credential information stored in central identity system databases, allowing access to specific information only according to designated access rights. Verify identification credentials for both integrity and validity.
The Personal Privacy Protection guidelines are as follows:
- Notify the user as to the nature and purpose of the PII (personally identifiable information) collected—its usage and length of retention.
- Inform the user about what information is used, how and when it is accessed, and who has access to it.
- Provide the user with a redress mechanism to correct information and to resolve disputes.
- Utilize the minimum PII needed to satisfy the application and no more.
- Ensure use of the PII only for the purpose originally disclosed.
- Ensure that the user has provided explicit consent for the operational use of the credential in all application scenarios.
- Educate the user on their responsibilities for using and safeguarding the credential and for reporting a lost or stolen credential.
According to the Alliances Vanderhoof, RF-enabled smart cards are currently able to meet all the guidelines in the best practices document.
The use of RFID tags in identity documents is another story. Their long read range—up to 25 feet—and lack of appropriate security features, could leave users open to the types of fraud and identity theft most feared by privacy advocates.
"Adherence to these best practices not only helps ensure the validity, security and integrity of vital identity information, but at the same time addresses concerns of citizens and government officials about privacy and the growing threat of identity theft," he said.
Some RFID detractors, including Jim Harper, a director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, and a co-author of a Department of Homeland Security advisory report on RFID, believes the RFID-based identification initiatives will eventually fail—with or without security and privacy guidelines.
"State put a chip in the [ePassport] card for two reasons. One that it would speed up processes at the border, and two that it would be more secure," said Harper, in Washington, D.C., during a Dec. 15 interview with eWEEK.
"You have to swipe the [ePassport] card to read the information, which is the information you have to swipe anyway," for the old optical character recognition systems in place currently.
And there are definitely security concerns with RFID, said Harper. "So were no better off. Were probably worse off."
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