New Electronic Passports Draw Concern

Beginning in December, United States passports will be issued with an embedded electronic RFID chip that stores personal information and is intended to make the document harder to copy.

But when first announced last February, the passport plan was met with concern from privacy advocates who said not enough was done to ensure the information is kept safe from prying eyes. 2,335 comments, or almost 95 percent of those received from the public, were opposed to the idea.

Thus, on Tuesday, the State Department announced some changes that it hopes will allay those fears.

Advertisement

Privacy groups said there was no protection that would prevent anyone with an RFID reader to obtain, or "skim," data from a passport. Since the chip contains personal information such as name, birth date and place of birth, it could be used by identity thieves.

Some groups went so far as to claim that terrorists could use the technology to identify American citizens.

In the new version of the electronic passport, however, the cover will contain "anti-skim" material that will only allow information to be read if the passport is actually opened. Also, a PIN number would be needed to access the information on the chip.

U.S. government officials also stressed that the new passport would "not permit tracking of individuals." However, privacy groups say it is not exactly clear what can and cannot be done with the new technology. A high-powered RFID reader could potentially bypass the cover protection.

Government employees will be the first to receive the passports in a test phase starting in December. A broader release to the general citizenry is expected to take place in early 2006.

14 Responses to New Electronic Passports Draw Concern

© 1998-2021 BetaNews, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy - Cookie Policy.