Bogus RFID Claims Continue

An article posted on The New American's Web site makes grossly inaccurate assertions, because the reporter doesn't understand the difference between RFID passports and PASS cards.
Published: August 31, 2009

On Aug. 27, The New American posted an online article entitled “State Department Passport Snooping & RFID,” by Steven J. Dubord. The article conflates U.S. State Department employees who were arrested for snooping through electronic files, with hacker Chris Paget having read serial numbers off of what he believes to be PASS cards.

The State Department’s workers didn’t abuse technology—they abused their access to records in an apparent violation of the law. How this relates to RFID is beyond me. Apparently, Dubord believes the same information stored in these files is stored on chips in passports, and could thus be read by anyone with an RFID interrogator, the way the employees read confidential information in a database.

Dubord writes: “Six government employees using their computer terminals to access the PIERS [Passport Information Electronic Records System] database, while serious enough in its own right, pales in comparison to the snooping that computer hackers and government officials will be able to get away with thanks to RFID.”

Here’s the major flaw with that statement: RFID tags in passports don’t contain all of the information stored in your electronic passport file, and passports have protections against unauthorized snooping. They use shielding to protect a tag from being read by anyone other than an immigration official, and the tags support encryption to prevent a third party from being able to skim information from an unsuspecting traveler.

The reporter clearly doesn’t understand that transponders used in passports are different from those used in PASS cards, which store a serial number and nothing more. I explained the difference a few weeks ago (see Cloning and Reading E-Passports and PASS Cards), but I guess Dubord was too lazy to conduct research before posting his article.

It’s amazing to me that journalists would attack a technology without even bothering to first understand it. I guess it’s a good thing for the human race that these people weren’t around during prehistoric times. If they were, they might have argued that fire is dangerous, and that humans are better off huddling in caves.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.