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E-passport Tag Comes With Switch

To bolster data security, SmartCode's tag design has a button that must be pressed to make the tag operable.
By Jonathan Collins
May 23, 2006Israeli RFID systems provider SmartCode says it has developed an RFID tag with a switch that users would need to activate before the tag could transmit data. The company aims to provide a low-cost way to prevent RFID-enabled passports and ID cards from being skimmed (having data pulled from the RFID tag over an unauthorized connection) while in a holder's bag or pocket.

The design accomplishes this by placing a button switch on the tag itself. Pressing the button completes the circuit between the chip and the antenna, allowing the passive tag to transmit its data while within the read field of an interrogator (reader). If that circuit is not completed, the tag remains inactive.

"This is a very simple way to let the user have a choice of when the information on the tag can be read," says Roy Apple, SmartCode's vice president of business development.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already completed tests of RFID-enabled passports, which it plans to begin issuing to citizens later this year (see DHS Completes E-Passport Test at SFO). The department is already using RFID in forms it issues to visitors with nonimmigrant visas (see DHS Testing Tags for US-VISIT Program). Nonetheless, concerns remain over the potential for unauthorized reading of the personal information stored on each RFID tag.

A recent draft report from a subcommittee of the DHS' Privacy Office cited skimming as a key problem with RFID-enabled passports and urged the DHS to consider other technologies with less risk to privacy (see DHS Subcommittee Advises Against RFID).

SmartCode says its SmartCode Research Group developed the push-button tag specifically with the e-passport market in mind, claiming that the tag provides a better alternative to such ideas as adding a metallic laminate to the e-passport's cover to reflect interrogators' signals when the document is closed.

According to SmartCode, its push-button design was developed only for 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) tags—the chip used in the U.S. e-passports complies with the ISO 14443 standard for HF smart cards—but that the design could also be utilized with UHF tags.

The tag was developed for one of SmartCode's private company partners in a bid to present the United States and other governments with a new way to implement RFID-enabled identification documents. Trials have been underway at the partner company for a few months, but SmartCode says it will not make its push-button design into a tag until the U.S. government has acknowledged it would consider the tag design for its deployment. Due to the simplicity of the tag design, SmartCode says it will be able to supply tags with the push-button switch for a cost 10 to 15 percent higher than that of existing HF tags.

The concept of adding a switch to an RFID tag is not new. Last year in an RFID Journal guest column, Wipro Technologies analyst Prasad Paturi proposed the concept of a switch-tag for contactless payment cards (see Switching Off Credit Card Fraud).
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