RFID-Equipped Passports Come to U.S.

Federal officials said Monday that United States passports equipped with RFID tags would soon begin to make their way to consumers, with its Colorado Passport Agency being the first to produce the documents.

Although the federal government insists the passports are safe, security researchers say the data on the tags can be compromised.

Researchers at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas earlier this month showed how RFID tags could be read and copied to a smart card, which in turn could be used to make a fake passport. Such issues could pose massive security risks, especially as airport officials are again trying to clamp down on security at international airports.

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However, the warnings are not stopping the federal government from going ahead with its plans. The rest of the country's passport distributing offices will convert to the new system by October of this year, the State Department said. Federal officials are already carrying the new devices under a test program conducted by the agency.

The State Department said it has taken a "multi-layered approach" to prevent data from falling into the wrong hands. Metallic anti-skimming technology has been included in the front cover and spine of the passport, which it says would not allow the data to be read when the passport is closed.

Other technologies such as Basic Access Control, which requires a key be read to unlock the chip, a randomized unique identification (RUID) to prevent tracking of an e-passport holder, and an electronic signature are all features intended to keep the passport holder's personal data intact.

"The Department of State is confident that the new e-passport, including biometrics and other improvements, will take security and travel facilitation to a new level," it said in a statement.

Moreover, features such as the digital photograph embedded in the data would practically make it impossible for a person to use a passport unless they looked similar to the person, say officials.

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