Radio Passports

Anybody planning on traveling internationally in the next 10 years would be well advised to head over to the passport office as soon as they get the chance. The U.S. State Department plans to embed Radio Frequency Identification Chips (RFIDs) in every new U.S. passport in the next few years.

RFID chips use radio signals to broadcast data to a radio reciever. Used mostly by shipping companies who don’t want scan every box individually, RFIDs function like barcodes, but can be read from a distance instead of scanned. The chips would contain an electronic copy of all of your passport information as well as information like a digitized photo and your fingerprints.

The issue is that anyone with a compatible scanner could walk by you in a crowd and take your passport info and fingerprints. Though the State Department initially insisted that the chip could be read only from a few centimeters away, demonstrations by the ACLU have shown that it can be read from as far as 30 feet away, according to Wired News. If reciever technology improves in the next 10 years, that distance will only increase.

One also wonders why they want to use a broadcasting chip if the intended range is only a few centimeters: why not use a contact-based card like many public transit systems?
Aside from putting metal wires into the passport cover to weaken the signal, the State Department is considering an encryption program called Basic Access Control, but the idea is self-defeating. Under BAC, the data being transmitted by the RFID would be encrypted and a unique password would be required to decrypt it. How does immigration control get the password, you may ask? By physically scanning the passport!

Long story short, this is a terrible idea, but it is going to happen: Colorado passports are already being issued with the chip. For non-Colorado residents the best idea is to get your passport before the project is implemented. Fortunately for Colorado residents, passports with a faulty chip will supposedly still be honored. For those already stuck with one, Washington Post columnist Bruce Scheiner pointed out that a few seconds in the microwave easily destroys most electronic chips.

Posted by Michael J. Bruns, Assistant News Editor

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