The second round of testing e-passports that contain contactless chips with
biometric data begins Sunday at San Francisco International Airport (SF0).
A joint effort between the United States, Australia, New Zealand and
Singapore, the testing will assess the operational impact of using new
software and hardware to verify the information embedded in e-passports.
“This test provides an important opportunity to work with our international
partners to further the . . . efforts to put in place an e-passport reader
solution by the fall of this year,” Jim Williams, director of the US VISIT
program at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said in a statement.
An e-passport contains biographic information and a biometric identifier,
currently a digital photograph, embedded in a chip. A separate piece of
hardware at the airport will “read” the information on the chip.
The e-passports being tested at SFO contain a security feature known as
Basis Access Control (BAC), which is intended to prevent the unauthorized
reading or “skimming” of information on the passports by devices other than
the airport’s reader.
The SFO test is the second live tryout of the e-passport between the U.S.,
Australia and New Zealand. According to the DHS, the goal is to gather
information to help other countries to develop and implement e-passport
systems that comply with International Civil Aviation Organization
In addition, the testing will provide more information on the airport reader
hardware. Privacy and security advocates have continually voiced their
concerns about the ability of others to use scanners and other devices to
steal the information on the e-passports.
“The results of the previous test, held at the Los Angeles International
Airport and Sydney Airport, indicated that further testing would be
beneficial to our development of a fully operational system,” Williams said.
Last June, the DHS pushed back by one year an Oct. 26, 2005, deadline for
countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to issue e-passports capable of
storing the biographic information from the passport data page, a digitized
photograph and other biometric information in travel documents.
Instead, the mostly European nations of the VWP must present the United
States with “an acceptable plan to begin issuing integrated circuit, or
e-passports, within one year” by the Oct. 26, 2005, deadline set by Congress
The original deadline for e-passports was Oct. 26, 2004.