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RealTime IT News

EPassport Awards More RFID Contracts

With government officials facing a March deadline for implementing a prototype electronic passport, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) this week awarded four more contracts for sample RFID computer chips to be used in the project.

Although the State Department is charged with the electronic passport initiative, the GPO will actually design and print the biometric documents, which will contain an active RFID tag containing all the data found on printed passports, including a digital photo.

GPO officials awarded new contracts to American companies EDS and OTI America, along with French firms ASK Contactless Technologies and Oberthur Card Systems. In October, the GPO picked Axalto, Infineon Technologies, BearingPoint and SuperCom to compete for the contract.

"We are expanding the pool of products to test before making an official decision on which products to use," Clarence Jellen, general manager of Security and Intelligent Documents at the GPO, said in a statement. "The goal of the State Department and the GPO is to provide Americans with the best passport in the world. To that end we are actively testing electronic passports that embrace a wide range of technologies available today in order to help us meet that objective."

Lydia Holt, the public relations coordinator for the GPO, said the agency would have no further comment on the contracts.

According to officials contacted by internetnews.com, all eight companies will now be competing with the chip supplier for U.S. biometric passports. The government currently plans to begin requiring all new passports to be biometric by early 2006. Last year, the United States issued more than seven million passports.

"We are still in a 'fly off' mode. All of our products are going to be competing against each other," Gary Glickman, CEO of G&D Cardtech, EDS' partner in the project, said. "We believe our product is unique and the best combination of technology."

Paul Bize, client sales executive with EDS, said, "[Our] technology is fundamentally a contactless chip embedded in an inlay material. The inlay material will be adhered to the inside cover of the passport."

G&D Cardtech has expertise in passports, transportation smartcards and other high-security documents, according to Glickman. G&D's smartcards are used in transportation systems in Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and Houston.

Ohad Bashan, CEO of OTI America, said his company has been manufacturing contactless chips and materials for the last 15 years, most notably for the government of Israel, which uses biometric identification smartcards for Palestinian workers.

"We have significant experience with authentication and verification," Bashan said. "We verify face image, fingerprints and handprints, all stored on chips."

Late last year, the ACLU and other privacy advocates criticized the U.S. contactless biometric passport push on security grounds, claiming the combination of unencrypted data and the contactless reading system will make the passports susceptible to ID theft.

"When you use appropriate security measures, that simply is not an issue," Bashan said.