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Can your privacy be protected with the implementation of RFID chips in your passport? I spawn this question based on a decision made today (well over the months anyway) to have RFID chip implants on all U.S. Passports starting in October 2006. The RFID chips with their 64KB of storage have the capability of storing your name, address, SSN, birth date, etc. all of which can be retrieved wirelessly with the right equipment. It has been well demonstrated that the ability to receive this information is possible with a “high powered” antenna and receiver.

This issue has created a heated debate which has shown negative comments greater than 98% from the every day John and Jane Doe like you and me. Despite such opposition the measure passes and it becomes “law”. Now for myself I don’t oppose advances in technology, but the large opposition leads to questions as to why so many people would be against this technology that could ultimately strengthen the security of our borders?

The concept and intent of this I do believe is a good one. I won’t fall into the same line as the conspiracy theorists that believe the government wants to implement such devices to invade our privacy. The government already has all they ever wanted to know about me, if I wanted to hide my identity my parents should have helped me out with that at my birth. I do however believe that the implementation of such technology carelessly will allow others to invade your privacy. This is exactly where most opposition comes from.

CNET News.com writes:

“But the Bush administration chose to go ahead with embedding 64KB chips in future passports, citing a desire to abide by “globally interoperable” standards devised by the International Civil Aviation Organization…”

“To address Americans’ concerns about ID theft, the Bush administration said the new passports will be outfitted with “antiskimming material” in the front cover to “mitigate” the threat of the information being surreptitiously scanned from afar. It’s not clear, though, how well the technique will work against high-powered readers that have been demonstrated to read RFID chips from about 160 feet away.”

I picked up quickly on the statement that the “antiskimming material” will mitigate, not prevent obtaining this data. I also dislike the reasoning in play that this is merely being implemented to adopt a global standard. That is all well and good, but wouldn’t one think that this technology should be well protected and “bullet-proof” before implementing?

This is always a disturbing aspect of many levels of government. Rather than doing the right thing the project is driven by a timeline and goal without readjustment. Questions are being posed such as:

  • How well does this “antiskimming” material work?
  • Is “skimming” prevented when the jacket is open?
  • How strong is the encryption?

I have a fairly strong project management background, but I would prefer to classify this in the bucket of common sense. Why not pilot a program such as this or perform a greater level of research and implementation of protective design before potentially exposing such a large mass of people. Last year alone there were over 8.8 million passports issued in the U.S. which is a 1.5 million increase over 2003 and I can only estimate based on the stats that this number will grow year over year.

I get fired up when I consider the level of risk that exists here, yet the careless demeanor of the administration dictates that we should do this in an effort to achieve international standardization and work the bugs out as we go.

Sources:
CNET News.com article
U.S. Department of State – Statistics