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US Government Issues 300 RFID Passports

The US government has officially begun the introduction of e-passports, its new generation of passports that include embedded RFID tags. According to the US State Department, 299 diplomats have been issued the new passport since January 1st, when distribution began.
Mar 14, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 14, 2006—The US government has officially begun the introduction of e-passports, its new generation of passports that include embedded RFID tags. According to the US State Department, about 300 diplomats have been issued the new passport since January 1st, when distribution began. The roll-out is consistent with the plan laid out by the State Department last year, when it announced that diplomatic e-passports would be issued as a pilot, to be followed later by the issuance of RFID passports to the general public. All new US passports will be RFID-enabled later this year, possibly as early as the summer.

The initiative is a widely publicized and controversial one. Opponents argue that travelers carrying passports will effectively be broadcasting their sensitive personal information for hackers, identity thieves, or terrorists to read surreptitiously from a distance. The RFID tags will include the personal information currently found on the data page of existing passports: name, nationality, gender, date and place of birth, and a digitized photo. The passport type, number, and issue and expiration dates will also be stored.

Opponents were emboldened a few weeks ago when Rotterdam-based security lab Riscure BV announced that it had successfully cracked the Dutch e-passport in only two hours. Frank Moss, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for passport services and de facto spokesman for the e-passport initiative, dismissed the episode, according to Government Computer News. He argued that the American e-passport security -- which employs a special security protocol called basic access control (BAC) and includes metal lining that acts as a deflective shield -- is more secure than the Dutch one.

So far, only one vendor has been approved by the US government to provide e-passport components for the initiative: Germany's Infineon, which, as the one-time semiconductors division of conglomerate Siemens, was spun out into its own company in 1999. Solutions from three other vendors -- Axalto, On Track Innovations, and ASK -- are under consideration.

For more background on the e-passport initiative, see these RFID Update stories from last year: Additionally, the State Department has this section on its site dedicated to explaining the initiative.
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