Do You Track People With Their Passport ID Number?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsDo You Track People With Their Passport ID Number?
RFID Journal Staff asked 10 years ago
—Name withheld

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Do I? No. First of all, I run a media and events company, and I have two kids, so I don’t have much time to track anything, including my 401(K). Second, I don’t own a reader infrastructure that covers the entire United States, and since building one would cost a few billion dollars, it’s out of my financial reach.

If you mean, does the government track people with the RFID transponder in their passport, then the answer is yes—but not in the way you are thinking. The RFID transponder is utilized to track individuals entering and leaving the country, just as bar codes and serial numbers have been used in the past. That is, you might not be surprised to learn, the very reason governments issue passports in the first place.

If you are concerned about the RFID transponder in your passport being used to track you as you walk around the streets of this or any other country, fear not. The U.S. passport has a thin layer of metal in the cover that prevents it from being read at all, unless it is open. And even if you were, for some odd reason, to walk around with your passport open, the transponders have a read range of only a few feet, so for a government to track you, it would need to invest billions in installing readers on every single street corner.

Katherine Albrecht, the founder of CASPIAN and a well-known RFID opponent, once said to me, “A hundred years ago, no one would have thought there would be street lights on every corner, so it’s not hard to image that one day we will have RFID readers on every street corner.” This is true. And it’s also not hard to imagine the moon flying out of its orbit, crashing into the Earth and ending life on our planet as we know it. But that doesn’t mean it will happen.

The fact is, you are probably carrying a cell phone with a GPS transmitter in it right now. And if the government wants to track you, it would be much easier for it to use the existing device you already carry, which can locate you anywhere on the planet as long as you are outside, and the existing GPS satellite (which the U.S. government built), rather than utilizing a short-range technology like RFID, which would be ineffective.

—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal

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