Indeed, some people are happily lining up to be microchipped – even throwing parties to celebrate their coworkers embracing the microchipping phenomenon, without any regard to how this technology could be used to further totalitarian aims.
As technology that tracks our movements becomes more widespread, an unassuming article in a trade journal about RFID technology – which uses radio signals to track movements of people or products – highlights a portentous development: Honduras, the Philippines and the Cayman Islands are deploying license plates with RFID technology to help track their citizens’ movements on highways and other roads.
The specific technology being used by these three countries are called the IDePlate and IDeSTIX. The former is implanted in license plates while the latter is in innocuously attached to a car’s windshield. Together, they allow authorities to track their citizens, while also providing a fallback in case a license plate is stolen.
The RFID technology, developed by the Dutch firm Tonnjes E.A.S.T, uses cryptography to verify the owner of a car, which can then be ascertained by the operator of a scanner similar to the license plate scanners that are already in wide use by police in the US (which, as we pointed out several years ago, will soon be operated by drones).
Tonnjes offers governments the hardware needed to fabricate and install the tags, while also providing the software to program them.
The RFID-enabled plate is designed to be forgery-proof, says Jochen Betz, Tönnjes’ managing director. The UCODE DNA IC uses cryptographic authentication based on the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Each time a tag is interrogated, it generates a new AES calculation based on its unique crypto key, which the reader receives and is programmed to verify. That ID number can then be linked to data about the vehicle and registration in a database.
By using both the IDePlate and IDeStix, the system enables users to identify any misuse of license plates. The problem with plate identification alone, the company explains, is that it cannot detect if the wrong plate is attached to a car. “Plate theft is very difficult to avoid,” Betz states, so the IDeStix provides a level of redundancy. The IDeStix is a hologram-printed windshield sticker that is placed on the window’s interior.
The RFID-enabled sticker can be interrogated simultaneously with the plate tag, and can then respond with its own encrypted code that is linked to the vehicle’s information. Tönnjes sells the RFID-enabled blank or finished plates to government agencies and offers equipment to emboss a plate number. They can then use their own software to link each tag’s encoded RFID number with the plate ID.
While governments are just beginning to roll out these systems, RFID Journal notes that one potential complication in rolling out the windshield-sticker tags (which, again, are necessary to compensate for license-plate theft) is the number of tags already attached to vehicles, mostly by their manufacturers, to track their movements.
When it comes to the capturing and filtering of data, Betz notes, one software-based challenge for a system like this is the large number of RFID tags already attached to parts of most modern vehicles. In fact, he estimates, there can be 15 or more RFID tags on a single car, most attached to parts that were being tracked by the manufacturer prior to the car’s sale. “We don’t want to talk to 17 tags [on a single car],” he states. Therefore, the system is designed to screen out all tag reads that are not recognized as part of the IDePlate system.
In the Cayman Islands, the RFID-tagging system was adopted last year, with the island’s government installing checkpoint readers (also created by Tonnjes) to capture vehicles’ information.
In the Cayman Islands, the system was taken live in 2017, with approximately 50,000 vehicles now equipped with the RFID-enabled plates and windshield stickers. Between five and 10 checkpoint readers provided by Tönnjes are scheduled to be installed around the county. The company supplies the middleware and software that captures the tag ID reader data and feeds that information, linked to the vehicle IDs, to the Cayman Island government’s vehicle database. The reader installation is posing a unique challenge, Betz says, since the devices had to be mounted on hurricane-proof gantries. The Cayland Islands government needs to ensure that the gantries would be able to sustain high winds.
The Philippines has ordered millions of plates to begin rolling out its own system…
In addition, the Land Transportation Office (LTO), a department of the Philippine Ministry of Transport, has hired Tönnjes to deliver 3.25 million of its license plates for cars and motorcycles. The government is also purchasing IDeSTIX windscreen labels for 775,000 cars, and IDeSTIX Headlamp Tags for 1.7 million motorcycles.
And Turkey is also piloting the technology…
Turkey has also piloted the technology with vehicles on a testing course of the country’s traffic police, while a trial in Russia tracked the movements of public buses throughout the city of Kazan. In addition, Tönnjes and Kirpestein are in discussions with the government of the Netherlands to conduct an open-road pilot, and is also in talks with vehicle authorities in that country regarding further pilots of the technology.
…Which means it’s only a matter of time before it arrives in the US…