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.

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