Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

US lubes passports with RFID snake oil


US lubes passports with RFID snake oil

By Thomas C Greene

Published Thursday 20th May 2004 13:36 GMT

Opinion As we reported recently, the US State Department will conduct a trial of biometric passports this Fall, with any eye toward moving to full production in 2005.

This scheme is supposed to help officials catch evildoers who are too thick to get biometric passports issued to themselves under false identities. It will, of course, be a great obstacle to knuckleheaded exploding-sneakers types like Richard Reid and loose talkers like Jose Padilla, although even moderately slick terrorists will not be affected.

Mug me, I'm rich

One of the more dubious aspects of the new regime is the so-called "smart chip," a spectacularly dumb RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) gizmo that might very well broadcast data indiscriminately to any device designed to receive it. There are several ways to design such a chip, and the preferred design, from a security point of view, would require the document and reader to be in physical contact. A passive chip can be read at a distance by a powered reader, but it doesn't have to be. However, it is likely, given the tech industry's lust for adding 'features' whether they're needed or not, that the chips will be readable from a distance. This would make it easier to move large herds of travelers through customs gates quickly, and it is likely to be pitched successfully on this basis. Newsletter

Unfortunately, this would also make it easy for street criminals to scan crowds in search of naive foreigners likely to be in possession of decent quantities of cash, like Americans and Europeans, say. The RFID lobby has consistently neglected to address issues of personal safety when sensitive, identifying information is being broadcast secretly and indiscriminately by their nifty gizmos. Such electronic documents are a boon to street thugs looking for probably-rich tourists, and, more ominously, to sophisticated criminals and kidnappers.