Dubbed the E-passport, government bodies bet on new RFID passports to offer security... minus encryption

Car theft, petty theft, shop lifting, data theft, credit card theft -- just a few of the day-to-day occurrences that society has to deal with. If only we could wish it all away. Often, these crimes, whether big or small can lead to much more heinous activities such as identity theft, murder or terrorist attacks. But it's not until a crime involves a government body, does it usually spark major attention.

National security has become quite a big business lately, especially for companies developing defense solutions. However, securing the country does not necessarily mean developing anti-explosive measures or airborne tracking systems. Currently in the testing phase, the US government and other bodies are deploying stage 2 testing for next generation passport technology based on RFID technology.

The new "E-passports" as they are called, will allow airports and customs officers at the border to quickly scan a traveler's passport and verify information. The integrated RFID circuitry in the passports will contain information about the passport bearer which will match the information that is printed in the passport itself. The chips will also carry a digital image of the bearer. Using this method, a customs officer can quickly identify a counterfeit passport from an authentic one or identify whether or not the passport itself is in the right hands.

Similar technology is used on toll highways throughout the country where a driver has an RFID module in their car, allowing them to simply drive through an entrance and be billed for the use of the road.

What has some folks concerned about the new passports however is that the information on the embedded RFID chips is not encrypted. While they are signed electronically by the passport issuer and the RFID chips themselves are write-once only chips, there are no means of securing the onboard information. Theoretically it is possible to have the information copied using a rogue RFID reader. A somewhat sophisticated organization could read a stolen passport's information and then duplicate that information in print for a match.

As of right now, the new passports are circulating to a small number of people. The tests will continue until there is an absolute certainty that the passports are secure. However, as we all know, security is a relative term. Companies that are participating in the tests are Infineon Technologies, Axalto Holding, SuperCom and Bearing Point. Countries participating in the tests are the US, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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