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Critics decry the design's increased range

With the original incarnation slammed over security concerns, a new breed of RFID-enabled passports received the U.S. State Department’s stamp of approval last Monday. The new passports are set to launch this spring for U.S. citizens entering the United States through land and sea checkpoints.

Readable at up to 20 feet, the next-generation design is supposed to help increase passports’ security and reduce the omnipresent lines found at entry points around the country.

Compared to the previous generation of RFID passport – dubbed “e-Passports” – the new generation of RFID passports contain security features that are far more protected, with many of its developments based on the 4,000+ responses received by the State Department on a public request for comment in December 2006. New security features include:

  • A “randomized unique identification” system that produces a different ID each time the chip is accessed
  • A digital signature that can help identify when the passport’s data has been altered
  • A metallic insert in the passport’s spine and front cover that blocks radio signals when the cover is closed.

While many critics continue to express privacy concerns, the new security features are sufficient to pacify at least some of the passport’s vocal critics. “At the moment, the security protections in U.S. passports are pretty good,” said Ari Juels, Chief Scientist and Director of Massachusetts-based RSA Laboratories, in a December 14 statement to the Los Angeles Times.

The new passport design will use “vicinity read” RFID technology, as opposed to the previous generation “proximity read” technology, which need to be swiped at a scanner and were only readable from a few inches.

However, while the new passports are a definite improvement, critics stress that they are far from perfect. Critics have particularly attacked the new passports’ increased range, which many claim will help facilitate identity theft. In one example, mobile security company Flexilis found the passport’s metallic shielding inadequate, allowing for the passport’s transmitter to be read even when it is closed.

To demonstrate this, Flexilis posted a YouTube video demonstrating a proof of concept where a trashcan armed with an explosive charge detonates as a dummy equipped with the “shielded” passport passes by. The threat, it says, is that terrorists could use the passports’ increased range to selectively identify Americans in foreign lands, possibly taking action against them that may include bodily harm.

Despite the new passports’ flaws – which the Los Angeles Times says are nothing to lose sleep over – most everyone agrees that the changes are a much-needed improvement over the current RFID passport, which gained pariah status among security circles for notoriously weak security features.

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Actually these have been...
By Marlin1975 on 1/4/2008 10:50:04 AM , Rating: 2
in use a lot longer. DC and some other PP offices has been using the new passports for a while. So if yours came from the DC office, or one of the other ones that were first, then you already have it.
Also it has not been a secret or anything. So if you are alarmed by this pull your head out of the sand.

<-- Works for State (Consular Affairs)

By Marlin1975 on 1/4/2008 10:54:08 AM , Rating: 2
Also the need for 20feet allows faster service and more ease of reading in the long run. 20 feet is not that far anyways. Its not like "the man" is driving by your house and using the secret mind reading powers of RFID in your passport to control you.

By Alexstarfire on 1/4/2008 11:48:19 AM , Rating: 2
I know, I actually got my passport literally a month before they switched to the new electronic ones. That just sucks ass for me. Not a problem yet, but it might be in a few years if I wanna go out of the country. I'd rather not have to go pay for a new one before it's set to expire in 10 years.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il
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