RFID Not at Fault in Passport Test

The Washington Times seems to blame RFID for not solving a problem that it was never intended to solve.
Published: August 2, 2010

I came across an interesting editorial on the Washington Times Web site. The article starts out by saying, “Since 2006, U.S. passports have been issued with an embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking chip ostensibly intended to reduce unauthorized entry into the country. In testimony Thursday before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that despite the high-tech efforts, passport fraud is still ‘easy.'” (See EDITORIAL: State Department flunks passport test.)

That caught my eye, because it was the first I had heard that RFID wasn’t proving more effective at preventing people from entering countries with doctored passports. The article claims the GAO successfully applied for passports with Social Security numbers belonging to children or the long deceased (essentially, stealing their identities and applying as them). The U.S. State Department reportedly failed to catch these errors.

This, of course, is not what RFID was put in passports for. It is not a miracle technology that can detect when someone applies for a passport fraudulently. RFID was added to passports to store biometric data, so that a person would not be able to simply cut out a picture on a passport, insert his or her own photo, and enter the United States illegally. Storing biometric data in a passport enables an immigration official to determine whether the person standing in front of him or her is, in fact, the individual to whom the passport was issued, and that the document has not been doctored.

The Washington Times article indicates the passport itself is very difficult to counterfeit—but it never points out that that’s due to RFID. So in other words, the writer essentially claims that RFID is ineffective because he or she (the article isn’t bylined) does not understand what the technology is, or what it is even used for. That’s sort of like claiming that airplanes have been a huge failure because they haven’t reduced road congestion.

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 the Editor’s Note archive.