The United States government’s new plan to embed Radio Frequency Identification or RFID computer chips in its passports has come under fire from privacy advocates. The chips would carry all the printed data on the passport, as well as digitized data on the traveler’s face. The chips would be read remotely through an antenna at immigration checkpoints.
The chips are being added as part of enhanced security measures in the wake of Sept. 11 attacks.
It is exactly these “enhancements” that privacy advocates in the United States are worried about. They, along with Canada, Germany and Britain are concerned about the security of the information on the chips. They are worried that these chips will be vulnerable to electronic snooping through a technique know as skimming. Through skimming, persons could remotely record the data on the passport and use the data in identity theft, or to electronically clone a copy of the passport t for other illegal means. Currently this information is unencrypted on the chip, and while the government may bow to privacy pressure to encrypt the data, it does not totally secure the information from prying eyes. No encryption scheme is unbreakable. Also this technology could also be used to “sniff out” Americans overseas, by detecting signals automatically given out by their RFID passports.