Responding to a new sort of globalization, the American Civil Liberties Union and two affiliated groups have announced an initiative to monitor and publicize the practice whereby governments, in the name of security, make cooperative agreements with one another in order to “escape domestic legal and political controls.”
The new generation of RFID-enabled passports, which the US is instituting for its own citizens and also requiring of other nations with which it has visa-waiver agreements, is an example. The privacy groups say that by presenting the rollout of this technology as the result of an international agreement intended to help fight terrorism, the US State Department can claim that the international community endorses the policy while in reality the other nations have been coerced into going along.
“In more and more areas, we are seeing security agencies pushing anti-privacy measures before international groups and foreign governments instead of through the domestic political process,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “This is the strategy we call policy laundering. The security agencies and law enforcement are ‘going global’ – and so must the protection of civil liberties… Law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies from different nations are increasingly working together out of the public eye to amass new powers.”
Jim Harper, director of information studies at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, has said (in an article in Wired) of the plan to embed RFID chips in passports: “In the U.S., it’s a non-starter politically.” It is difficulties caused by that kind of attitude that the privacy groups say policy laundering is intended to avoid.
Tom Ridge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security and a member of the board of Savi Technology (an RFID contractor for the Department of Homeland Security), is one who believes in the use of RFID technology for personal identification. “It’s another security measure embedded in the U.S. economy,” Ridge said. “Biometrics and RFID will make us safer.”