Passports to get RFID chip implants

Here is some disturbing news:

All U.S. passports will be implanted with remotely readable computer chips starting in October 2006, the Bush administration has announced.

Sweeping new State Department regulations issued Tuesday say that passports issued after that time will have tiny radio frequency ID (RFID) chips that can transmit personal information including the name, nationality, sex, date of birth, place of birth and digitized photograph of the passport holder. Eventually, the government contemplates adding additional digitized data such as “fingerprints or iris scans.”

Over the last year, opposition to the idea of implanting RFID chips in passports has grown amidst worries that identity thieves could snatch personal information out of the air simply by aiming a high-powered antenna at a person or a vehicle carrying a passport. Out of the 2,335 comments on the plan that were received by the State Department this year, 98.5 percent were negative. The objections mostly focused on security and privacy concerns.

In regulations published Tuesday, the State Department claims it has addressed privacy concerns. The chipped passports “will not permit ‘tracking’ of individuals,” the department said. “It will only permit governmental authorities to know that an individual has arrived at a port of entry–which governmental authorities already know from presentation of non-electronic passports–with greater assurance that the person who presents the passport is the legitimate holder of the passport.”

To address Americans’ concerns about ID theft, the Bush administration said the new passports will be outfitted with “antiskimming material” in the front cover to “mitigate” the threat of the information being surreptitiously scanned from afar. It’s not clear, though, how well the technique will work against high-powered readers that have been demonstrated to read RFID chips from about 160 feet away.

Sure, shielding the passports is a good idea.  If they weren’t made with that built-in the private market would have supplied them. 

The article goes on to discuss some concerns about the security of the encryption and some legal issues but misses one of my big concerns.  The government tries to reassure us that everything is going to be okay because they are making efforts to make sure only they will be able to read the information.  And that they will only read the information at ports of entry.  It’s government that is the biggest threat to the individual person.  It’s government abuse that I’m worried about.  This technology makes it practical for automated reading, recording, and tracking of the passports.  When the passports were nothing but paper it took a human time to retrieve the information and verify it’s validity.  It simply wasn’t practical to put a human at the entrance to every government building, every boarding gate for planes and trains, and monitor every banking transaction.  This technology changes that.  And it is likely to creep into more and more of our lives.  Then there will be little reason to not require the same technology on whatever government mandated ID U.S. citizens will have.  The temptation will be just too great.

And of course mandated ID and/or tracking of people violates my Jews in the Attic Test.

3 thoughts on “Passports to get RFID chip implants

  1. Not to mention the absolute stupidity of depending on the information on the RFid to be correct. Obviously the haven’t consulted with anyone with a clue about security.

    The RFid chip should be a key into their database of Passport holders. Look up the data from the DB, compare with the physical passport and holder.

    Is their plan to depend on their ‘encryption’ of the data on the Passport to protect it from tampering? What happens when the key leaks?

  2. I’ve been intending to get my passport for a while. Now I have an impetus to get it before October. Actually, since this is the sort of thing that the government somehow finds the competence to “expidite”, I think I’ll get it sooner. Like, this month.

    That will buy me about 10 years, which may be all we need at this rate.

  3. …The chipped passports “will not permit ‘tracking’ of individuals,” the department said.

    Yeah, right.

    Suggested book for all of Joe’s blogfollowers (especially guys like NYC anti-privacy supporter Henry Boitel — Hi Henry!):

    _Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID_, by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntire.

    Spychips site/link to book:

    _Spychips_ was released on Oct. 4 of this year. It’s a shocking and disturbing must-read for anyone remotely concerned about privacy.

    Link to news release:
    Scathing Expose of Corporate and Government Plans for RFID Abuse Flies off Shelves

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