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One Year Later, U.S. E-Passport's Architect Says System Is a Success

Frank Moss, the U.S. State Department's former deputy assistant secretary for passport services, says the electronic passport is not a panacea, but does provide a number of real and potential benefits.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 16, 2007One year ago this month, the U.S. State Department began issuing passports carrying 13.56 MHz, ISO 14443-compliant RFID inlays (see RFID News Roundup: U.S. Department of State to Begin Issuing e-Passports to the General Public). Between Aug. 1, 2006, to Aug. 15, 2007, the department issued 6,422,677 electronic passports (e-passports). Based on technical specifications set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), these RFID-enabled documents are designed to deter passport counterfeiting and help inspectors verify the authenticity of the passports that travelers present.

To prevent unauthorized parties from reading personal data stored on its RFID chip, the e-passport includes basic access control, consisting of a personal identification number (PIN) printed on the passport. Before an RFID interrogator can read this data, this PIN must first be optically read. To further deter unauthorized access to the chip, the e-passport's cover contains a metallic liner that blocks the inlay from receiving or transmitting RF signals whenever the cover is closed.

Frank Moss
Frank Moss spent 32 years working for the State Department before retiring in March of this year. He spent his last four years overseeing the U.S Passport program and the development of the electronic passport in this country. During his time as deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services at the State Department, Moss defended the e-passport's design and security features before Congressional committees, privacy and travel groups, and private sector representatives. He also worked on the proposed PASS card, a passport alternative designed to satisfy border security requirements set forth by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

After leaving the State Department, Moss founded Identity Matters, a consultancy, and is presently working with a range of vendors that contribute to e-passports and other security documents. These include RFID chip maker Texas Instruments and security products and services provider L-1 Identity Solutions. Recently, RFID Journal interviewed Moss about the e-passport program.

Q: Has the electronic passport program improved border security?

A: The way I've often described the [RFID] chip in the passport is to say that it is another arrow in the quiver of our border security system. It's not a panacea; it doesn't solve all problems. When the U.S. introduced our e-passport, we did it as part of introducing a new book, which has other new security features, as well as changes to our underlying process to adjudicate [verify the authenticity of] passports. It's a whole-systems approach.

The e-passport, in particular, was intended to establish an electronic link between you, the traveler; your photograph, which is in the book; and the biometric data that is written to the chip. It helps the inspector ensure that the person carrying the passport is the one to whom it was legitimately issued. That is a major border security enhancement. It also makes it more difficult for someone other than the person to whom the passport was issued to use it.

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