An enhanced driver's license (EDL) is one that meets new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and can be used as a border crossing credential into Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean islands. They look like a regular driver's license except they add the word "enhanced" on the top and have a small American flag on the front.
Washington State, New York and Vermont were among the first states to offer EDLs, and many other states are introducing them including Michigan, Arizona, California and Texas.
If you are a U.S. citizen in one of these states, you can request an EDL, which is voluntary. You need to present additional proof of identity, citizenship and residency and there is usually a fee that varies by state. In New York for example, the license costs $30 more than a normal license or state ID, and is valid for eight years.
EDLs are based on RFID technology. RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags are simple devices that broadcast an ID number using radio waves. Used mostly in manufacturing, shipping and object-related tracking, they have minimal built-in support for security and privacy.
The RFID tag in the EDL broadcasts a number that is uniquely tied to you when it enters a radio field. Border officers use that number to pull up your stored record to confirm it is really you and determine if you should be admitted. No personal information is stored in the RFID chip on the driver's license.
This is different from the U.S. electronic passport, which is based on secure contactless smart card technology, small but sophisticated computers that are far more advanced and secure than RFID tags. For example, contactless smart cards can contain special digital keys used to prove the authenticity of the passport and protect access to its stored information. In addition, it can scramble, or encrypt, data it sends to readers.
RFID-based EDLs do not have any of these strong privacy and security protection features.
For more information on how the U.S. epassport protects your security and privacy, click on the blue passport book in the Tutorial section of JustAskGemalto.com.