Coverage of RFID Issues Is Improving

A few articles about RFID-enabled passports show the press is becoming more educated—and less sensationalist—than it was just a year or two ago.
Published: January 21, 2008

Have you noticed that some articles about the use of radio frequency identification in passports are becoming more balanced? Despite the recent article in The Independent (see Independent Idiocy), coverage in the mainstream press otherwise seems to be improving.

In a recent article in the L.A. Times, for instance, Jane Engle explained the concerns of privacy advocates about a proposal to use RFID in passports, and what the U.S. State Department did to address them (see How secure are U.S.’ new ‘smart’ passports?). Ms. Engle pointed out that the RFID transponders are not foolproof, but concluded: “But its possible flaws, I suspect, needn’t keep you up at night.”

That’s a long way from the nightmare scenarios spouted not too long ago.

In a follow-up article about new passport cards that enable people to travel between the United States and Canada or Mexico, the L.A. Times conducted a question-and-answer piece (see New passport card may be ready by April) that is free of any sensationalism.

Meanwhile, in an article on the new passport cards,, the Web site of Federal Computer Week, spelled out criticisms from privacy experts and the response of government representatives (see Rule will make passport cards scannable from several feet away).

An article in the Washington Post, Electronic Passports Raise Privacy Issues was more slanted. It interviewed three people who criticized the use of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) transponders in the cards without quoting anyone providing a counterpoint. But at least it didn’t suggest RFID poses any ridiculous threat to life, liberty and happiness, as other more non-journalistic “articles” have done in the.

One of the few totally biased articles was a blog on the ComputerWeekly Web site, which just regurgitated old criticism of the use of RFID in passports without explaining that most of these issues have already been addressed (see RFID Passports). Still, by and large, the coverage has been more balanced and more informed that what we’ve seen previously.