The buzz is on the US RFID passports

April 04, 2005

A lot of buzz surrounding the RFID-enabled new passports coming soon in the US:

USA Today (via SmartMobs, Picturephoning) writes:

Blue-jacketed tourist passports, as well as the maroon-and-black-covered ones used by diplomats and others on government business, are being redesigned and going electronic. The goal is to make it harder to copy or tamper with them, just as currency has been redesigned to fight counterfeiting.[...]

What's generating controversy is a computer chip that will be in a passport's back cover. It will contain all the information now printed on the first page of the passport, including name, date of birth, place of birth, nationality, passport number and a digitized photo.

[...] Bill Scannell, who has a Web site called says a terrorist could use a high-powered machine to scan a cafe and determine how many Americans were inside.
Wired reports: Passport Chip Criticism Grows:
Business travel groups, security experts and privacy advocates are looking to derail a government plan to insert remotely readable chips in American passports, calling the chips homing devices for high-tech muggers, identity thieves and even terrorists. [...]

The State Department is also adding technical features to prevent the radio-frequency identification devices, or RFID chips, in new passports from being "skimmed" by unauthorized readers, according to Frank Moss, the deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the State Department.

"We will not issue passports to the American public without mitigating the risk of skimming," Moss said, calling the issue both a technical and a political problem.

The 64-KB chips will include the information from the photo page of the passport, including name, date of birth and a digitized form of the passport picture. The chips include enough space so that fingerprints or iris prints can be added later.

Border agents, using special readers, will be able to call up all the passport information included on the chips on a computer screen. They will also use facial-identification software and a digital camera to verify that the person presenting the passport is the person who was issued the passport.
See also Wired: RFID Cards Get Spin Treatment

Posted by andersja


Please get your facts stright. ISO/IEC 14443, not RFID, will be used in the cards. With a range of up to 3.94 inches, ISO/IEC 14443 is hardly the threat described. Also, the heavily encrypted (triple DES) key exchange algorithms used in negotiating access will require quite a bit of computing power to hack even a single card.

No drive by terrorist RFID scans, no sensationalism, no pseudo-journalistic drivel,
; the truth is boring, isn't it?

David Tomlinson
Principal Architect
EACG, Inc.

Posted by: David Tomlinson at April 6, 2005 07:37 PM

one man's 'truth' is another man's 'spin'. Joe Six-Pack knows so little about this tech... I dont care if the range is 3.94 nanometers. I dont want it on my person...or IN it.

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