Concern for ePassports rises

27th Jul 2006

A tide of popular concern is rising about the
security of the new “e-passports” the United States government will
begin issuing to its citizens next month. ABI Research believes that the
Department of Homeland Security should speak out to reassure the public
about the safety of the contactless technologies at the heart of the
electronic travel documents.

RFID industry analyst Sara Shah says that “there are uneducated claims
being made by some privacy advocates. They make claims such as, ‘if you
have a contactless chip in your passport they can track you everywhere
and they’ll know everything about you.’ This is simply not true, and the
DHS should publicly explain what the technology is capable of, and why
it is secure.”

Not all those who question the appropriateness of contactless technology
for personal identification are so extreme. The Emerging Applications
and Technology Subcommittee of the DHS’s Full Data Privacy and Integrity
Advisory Committee recently issued a draft report which stated, “RFID
appears to offer little benefit when compared to the consequences it
brings for privacy and data integrity . . . we recommend that RFID be
disfavored for identifying and tracking human beings.”

In response, the Smart Card Alliance pointed out that not all RFID
systems are alike, and that the DHS committee should “include these
differences clearly within the (final) report and conduct separate
analyses of contactless smart cards and longer-range RFID technology.”

Initially the US e-passport design had just one Basic Access Control to
unlock the encrypted information in the chip. In response to criticism,
the government has added a “Faraday cage”: metal shielding built into
the passport’s covers, so it can only be read when opened.


The contactless vendors in this market have a long history of providing
secure technology. “Contactless technology is a short-range technology,”
says Shah. “There aren’t readers or infrastructure everywhere capable of
tracking e-passport holders. We don’t think these debates—or the
subcommittee’s report—will have a significant impact on the issuing of
the passports next month, however it may raise concerns in the long term
for other ID document applications. We feel that the DHS should take
steps to mitigate public concerns today.”


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