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Government officials insists new passports are secure

This week the US government plans to rollout new RFID passports to citizens nationwide. The new passports contain a chip which requires no power and contains duplicate information of what's printed on the passports. This way, government officials at air ports and other national borders can quickly verify the authenticity of printed information on the passports. DailyTech last reported that the US government planned to issue the new passports this month despite privacy concerns.

Despite the security benefits that the US government is boasting, security advocates and experts say that the new RFID passports present an increased level of danger for passport users. Because of the technology being used, remote RFID readers can read information off the passports for cloning or malicious use. The US government argues that this is no different than having someone steal a physical passport -- they wouldn't be able to use it anyway. Officials claim that the information be stored on the new passports are encrypted and cannot be copied and modified. Likewise, the information on the passports cannot be scrambled or changed because the chips are read-only.

The US State Department already has a fairly comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions website about the new electronic passports.  About half of the official Q&A from the State Department is with regard to security.  For example, the site claims "To prevent eavesdropping, Basic Access Control (BAC) is employed in the U.S. e-passport.  BAC is similar to a PIN used in ATM or credit card transactions.  In the case of the electronic passport, characters from the printed machine-readable zone of the passport must be read first in order to unlock the chip for reading.  Thus, when an electronic passport is presented to an inspector, the inspector must scan the printed lines of data in order to be able to read the data on the chip." 

Staff counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington said that "many of the advantages the industry is touting are eliminated by security concerns." However, a German security company has already demonstrated that information on the new passports can be copied and transferred to another device.  The State Department claims there is an anti-skimming technology in place to prevent this type of exploit specifically, though exact details of the counter-measure have not been revealed yet.

The new passports are being manufactured by Infineon Technologies, but production has not started yet. Other countries deploying new passport technologies include Japan, France and Canada. The new RFID passports are already being used in French international passports and Canada plans to introduce biometric passports sometime in 2007.  Japan's all-biometic passports are already being rolled out in select regions. The UK is still in the planning phases for its passports.

The new passports will cost roughly $97 per passport and includes a $12 security surcharge. The US government expects the technology to be fully deployed within the year. Those with regular passports will still be able to use them until the expiration date is reached.

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Blending in....
By jabber on 8/15/2006 6:04:27 AM , Rating: 2
"Seriously, its not that hard for most Americans to blend in reasonably well in a crowd in most foreign locations. That is, unless they have one of these new passports. "

Wow you should try that from the home crowd's perspective. Americans are usually very easy to spot abroad.

Clues -
1. Baseball caps with 'USS Whatever' or obscure baseball teams emblazoned on them.
2. White almost knee high sports socks with flip-flops or trainers.
3. Blue chequered trousers/elasticized waists/zipper jackets
4. T-shirts/sweatshirts with "We'll never forget" with a great big eagle and stars and stripes on it.
5. Whenever they speak to you, they have an impossible urge to tell you where they are from within 10 seconds.

That's just a few easy ones to get you started, there are more. I told this to a US buddy of mine before she came over to visit the UK and she didn't believe me. However, when I took her to London she could spot pretty much every US tourist once she got her eye in. It was good fun.

You don't need a RFID tag to find them. Yes it's not hard to blend in, though most it appears, don't want to which is fair enough.

RE: Blending in....
By masher2 on 8/15/2006 9:44:02 AM , Rating: 2
> "Wow you should try that from the home crowd's perspective. Americans are usually very easy to spot abroad..."

I've lived and worked abroad for many years. An American tourist may be easy to spot-- but Americans in general are not. Even in places where you cannot ethnically pass for a local, you easily pass for a foreigner of unspecified nationality.

Tourists don't tend to visit areas that are high security risks...but there are still plenty of Americans in places like Beirut or Baghdad. They need to blend in...and they can't do it while carrying an RFID passport.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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