RFID-Chip-Embedded Passports Nearing Reality

As the U.S. government prepares to issue the first RFID-chip-embedded passport midyear, the voice of opposition is rising among some privacy and business-travel groups.



While the U.S. government moves forward with its plans to issue high-tech passports featuring radio-frequency identification chips and biometric photos, the voice of opposition is rising among some privacy and business-travel groups.

The plan is to introduce an electronic version of the traditional passport, using an embedded 64-Kbyte RFID chip to store the cardholder's personal information, such as name, birth date, and place of birth. The passports will include security technology to prevent digital data from being altered or removed, according to the government.

The Office of Passport Policy, Planning, and Advisory Services is accepting public comments until April 4, and will make a final decision on its plans at that time.

The government says to expect the first passport issued with an RFID chip in the middle of this year, and within a year all new passports issued will have RFID chips. Passports without the chip will be valid until the expiration date.

Some groups are trying to raise widespread opposition to the plan, saying it could make U.S. citizens more vulnerable to terrorist attacks because the chips would broadcast the passport holder's information. One site, RFID Kills.com, reports that "the State Department wants to turn all U.S. passports into terrorist beacons."

Some information that's being disseminated does not sync up with what the government says. For example, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives released a statement Monday that includes this sentence: "The [RFID] signal can be detected up to dozens of feet to tens of yards." The Office of Passport Policy, Planning, and Advisory Services says the data stored on the chip is secure and only readable within 4 inches.

A group called the Business Travel Coalition also has stated its opposition, saying it's a "deeply flawed policy and will put American business travelers at risk of identity theft and physical harm."

The Department of Homeland Security will begin to implement RFID-chip-reader technology through pilot programs by the end of the year. The government also is proposing digital signatures on the passport as a way to prevent tampering.

The public can comment either by E-mailing the department at [email protected] or by visiting www.regulations.gov/index.cfm. The regulatory identification number (RIN 1400-AB93) must appear in the subject line of the message.

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