usiness travel groups, security experts and privacy advocates are looking to derail a government plan to insert remotely readable chips in American passports, calling the chips homing devices for high-tech muggers, identity thieves and even terrorists.
But the U.S. State Department, which plans to start issuing the new passports to citizens later this year, says its critics are overstating the risks. Officials say that the chips will cut down on passport forgery, improve security and speed up border crossings.
The State Department is also adding technical features to prevent the radio-frequency identification devices, or RFID chips, in new passports from being “skimmed” by unauthorized readers, according to Frank Moss, the deputy assistant secretary for passport services at the State Department.
The 64-KB chips will include the information from the photo page of the passport, including name, date of birth and a digitized form of the passport picture. The chips include enough space so that fingerprints or iris prints can be added later.
Border agents, using special readers, will be able to call up all the passport information included on the chips on a computer screen. They will also use facial-identification software and a digital camera to verify that the person presenting the passport is the person who was issued the passport.
But Bill Scannell, a publicist and freelance civil liberties provocateur, thinks the risk is far greater than the State Department is admitting. On Monday, Scannell launched an internet campaign called RFID Kills to stop the government’s plans.
The site accuses the State Department of putting Americans abroad at risk, saying the chips “turn tourists into targets, and American business travelers will transmit their identities to kidnappers wherever they go.”