Now, epassports with RFID chips

The US Department of State has started issuing electronic passports (e-passports) equipped with RFID-chips.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2006 13:07 IST

Six months ago, I got an opportunity to do a special on RFID for this very newspaper. I had written a column titled "Soaps that talk and pens that sing" and had mentioned the kind of impact RFID would have on human history is beyond description. Just two days ago a very interesting development happened in the US using RFID. It was underway for a long time and finally on Monday it happened. The US Department of State on Monday started to issue electronic passports (e-passports) equipped with RFID-chips.

USA gets RFID passports

RFID passports have been much talked about. Germany uses RFID in passports to help border officials guard against forgeries and automate the processing of international visitors. The US has decided to finally get epassports.

On Monday the US Department of State started to issue electronic passports (epassports) equipped with RFID chips. According to reports the US government has placed an order with a California company, Infineon Technologies North America for smart chip-embedded passports.

The Associated Press said the new US passports include an electronic chip that contains all the data contained in the paper version name, birth date, gender, for example and can be read by digital scanners at equipped airports. They cost 14 per cent more than their predecessors but the State Department said they will speed up going through customs and help enhance border security.

Views against ePassports

I was reading Dan Goodwin'sarticle, an AP Technology writer, where experts warned against epassports.

The article said, "Electronic passports being introduced in the US and other countries have a major vulnerability that could allow criminals to clone embedded secret code and enter countries illegally, an expert warned. A demonstration late on Friday by German computer security expert Lukas Grunwald showed how personal information stored on the documents could be copied and transferred to another device."

The Next Generation security

Don Goodwin article on experts warning on security was definitely informative. I even agree with Lukas Grunwald. But the fact remains the world isn't the same any longer. Terror has acquired a totally new definition and surveillance has to move on to new generation security.
RFID promises just that.

Of course no security system is foolproof and RFID passports are no different. The terror geeks must be already working to get past or get into the new passport system. But the checks and balances and the surveillance, which the new passports will provide are unmatched by traditional methods. My guess is a few teething problems and maybe even a few loopholes later the RFID passport system promises to be far superior to the traditional system.

RFID - a technology of impact

The kind of impact RFID would have on human history is beyond words. Chances of its misuse too are high. An innovative or a destructive mind is all that would be required and super benefits or super chaos is what we are going to see in the days of the RFID. The benefits are absolutely too huge to be ignored.

In these terror times RFID offers a security solution that is viable and implementable

Puneet Mehrotra edits and a web strategist at You can email him on

First Published: Aug 17, 2006 14:37 IST