RealTime IT News

E-Passports Will be a Reality in 2006

Americans holding U.S. passports issued after October 2006 will carry embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) chips inside the documents, according to the U.S. State Department.

The State Department announced the final regulations this week and will begin a pilot program in December, issuing passports to government employees who use official or diplomatic passports.

The documents will have a 64 kilobyte RFID chip implanted inside the cover containing personal data, including name, date of birth, gender, place of birth, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number, and photo image of the bearer.

The extra storage was included in case additional data such as fingerprints, iris scans or other technology is added in the future.

The idea, say government officials, is to slow identity theft and reduce risks of terrorism.

Although several other countries have implemented these worldwide biometric cards, some groups say the Orwellian specter of a nation electronically tracking its citizens around the world is frightening.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has warned citizens the RFID-enabled passports would essentially create a global identification standard.

The ACLU has said the chips' potential danger goes beyond passports becoming a global identity card and into a dangerous area of governments tracking and spying on its citizens around the globe.

"It has the potential to become part of the government's infrastructure to routinely surveillance its people," said Jay Stanley, an ACLU technology expert who believes the practice will eventually run into some Fourth Amendment issues. "Unfortunately it looks like the government's policy on terror is to turn everyone into a suspect."

The ACLU has argued the technology will leave document holders even more vulnerable to identity theft, to terrorists interested in singling out Americans traveling overseas, or to the emergence of routine tracking by the government or private sector.

"The biggest issue is the potential threat of identity theft and other security problems that come with all that data being tracked," Stanley said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency, has instituted international specifications for e-passports.

United Kingdom and Germany are also planning similar initiatives.