Thursday, March 31, 2005

Passport Chip Criticism Grows

A Wired News article actually holds out hope that the State Department is listening to critics.

"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. But the U.S. State Department, which plans to start issuing the new passports to citizens later this year, says its critics are overstating the risks. Officials say that the chips will cut down on passport forgery, improve security and speed up border crossings."

"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."

"Two business travel groups -- the Business Travel Coalition and the Association of Corporate Travel Executives -- also announced their opposition to the chips Monday. 'The thought that your travel documents could be broadcasting your nationality to those with an interest in harming U.S. citizens is bad enough,' said ACTE President Greeley Koch in a written statement. 'But it could also be pinpointing likely targets for pickpockets, thieves, and even providing information to steal.' "

"The chips are also designed only to be readable from 8 centimeters (about 3 inches) away when the passport is open, Moss said, adding 'these are not like the RFID chips that control Wal-Mart's inventory.' State Department contractors are looking to include some shielding, such as metal fibers in the passport cover, to keep the chips from being read when the passport is closed. But others say the passports could be read from much further, perhaps 10 meters (about 33 feet), if one used a stronger reader than the border guards have."

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