POSTSCRIPT / September 27, 2009 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who’s afraid of RFID tags mounted on cars?

RAISE YOUR HANDS: Who are afraid of the RFID (radio frequency identification) stickers that the Land Transportation Office will mount soon on motor vehicles’ windshields upon registration?

(Flashback to our Postscript of last Thursday: An authorized traffic officer aims his handheld reader at the 4-inch x 2-inch RFID sticker and information on the vehicle appears on his device’s screen without his having to stop the vehicle and talk to the driver.

(Vehicles without RFID are deemed not registered or not yet due for registration. With RFID, it is easier to spot stolen vehicles, those known to have been used in a crime, and passenger vehicles that are colorum, out-of-line, or using unauthorized license plates.)

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WHO OBJECTS?: As far as I can gather from their reactions, these people do not want the high-tech RFID stickers:

* Operators of colorum buses, taxis and jeepneys.
* Car smugglers, carnappers, traders of stolen vehicles.
* Those using motor vehicles in committing crimes.
* Subversives whose vehicles had been identified.
* Those who think P35/year for RFID is too much.
* Owners of hot motorcycles (which are 60 percent of all unregistered vehicles in the country).
* Those who do not know how/why RFID will be used.
* Those who fear violation of their privacy and human rights.
* Those who close their eyes to the benefits of RFID.
* Those who are suspicious of system upgrades.
* Business rivals of the present IT contractor of LTO.
* Those who think the Arroyos will make millions off it.
* Those opposing anything the administration proposes.

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CONSULTATIONS: The RFID project is covered by DOTC Order # 2009-06 mandating the LTO to enhance the motor vehicle registration system under the LTO-IT project and integrate it into the Private Emission Testing System of the agency.

The LTO said there were three public consultations in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao with transport groups and other associations to inform them of the plan and get their opinion. Those present, the LTO added, expressed their support.

The RFID project will not cost the LTO and the national government anything since, according to the LTO, it is covered by the Build Own and Operate scheme of the Build Operate and Transfer Law.

Neither does the project require public bidding, according to the DOTC, since it is just an enhancement of the existing motor vehicle registration system under the LTO-Computerization project.

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BENEFITS: The RFID will make vehicle registration more efficient, shorten transaction time by skipping data encoding during inspection. Inspection stations will use RFIDs to read windshield tags, doing away with the possibility of human error. Later on, drive-through registration can be adopted.

The RFID will improve law enforcement and traffic management. Its real-time access to information from the LTO database makes it easier to identify vehicles that have alarms on them.

As the RFID can access franchise and route details of public utility vehicles in seconds, traffic enforcers are able to accost colorum passenger vehicles plying unauthorized routes and those using borrowed license plates.

The RFID system will force owners to produce their vehicles for emission tests instead of just buying clearances from unscrupulous testers. Then proper action can be taken against tagged vehicles found not complying with environmental standards.

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PRIVACY FEARS: On fears of invasion of privacy and violation of human rights, the LTO explained that the information accessed pertains to the vehicle, and not to the owner except only for his name (but no address is shown).

The RFID cannot be used for tracking motorists or vehicles, because it has no GPS (global positioning system) tracking capabilities and was never designed or intended for surveillance or tracking.

It is simply an electronic, tamper-proof identification system that will protect vehicle ownership, as well as assist law enforcement agencies in curbing illegal activities.

If a person is not up to something criminal or sinister, it might be better for him to cooperate with the authorities on matters promoting public welfare.

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PAY FOR VALUE: The one-time RFID fee of P350 is good for the entire usable life of a vehicle, which is estimated at 10 years. The cost breaks down to just P35 a year.

New vehicles already registered for three straight years need not go back for RFID, which is required only upon registration or re-registration. But owners are encouraged to get an RFID tag early and enjoy the protection it offers.

There are actually ordinary off-the-shelf RFID tags being sold abroad for less than P350, but these are usually the models used for less sensitive operations like in grocery operations and tagging goods.

The LTO says its European-made RFID is the latest. It can be read even at more than 100 kph. In the United States, drivers sometimes have to slow down to a crawl for the toll reader to read the RFID on their windshields.

The RFID will be submitted for registration with the National Telecommunications Commission as soon as they arrive from abroad. No problems are foreseen because they fall under the 918-920 Mhz frequency allowed by NTC.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 27, 2009)

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