This week the U.S. State Department proposed the introduction of wallet-sized passport cards for Americans who travel frequently to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, which would cost less than a regular passport and allow frequent travelers to cross the border more quickly at land and sea crossings. But privacy groups are worried about the use of RFID chips in the passport cards.
The proposed passport cards would be the size of a credit card, cost $20 for adults plus a $25 “execution fee,” and be valid for 10 years, the same as a regular passport. They would only be valid for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda, according to the State Department.
The UHF vicinity technology would allow reader equipment to link to the card from a distance of about 32 feet, in contrast to the HF proximity technology that functions within three feet. Proponents of both the technologies tout their current or future security benefits, while some privacy activists have questioned or denounced the use of RF technology of any kind for secure credentials.
“Using free read RFID technology is a bad idea,” said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance. “Unlike electronic passports, which have built-in security features, a free read of a unique reference number at long distances opens possibilities to identify or even track U.S. citizens.” — Government Computer News
That’s easy: Just have your rogue RFID reader sitting out somewhere and see who passes by. Then see who passes by at some other location. It would be fairly easy to use other data to match up the random numbers on the RFID cards to real people without ever needing access to the government’s database.
Dan Caprio, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, said he wants to see the details of the request for information but expects to offer comments. “We would oppose any sort of technology mandate pitting one portion of the industry against another,” Caprio said. “Mandates are not productive, not good for innovation.” — National Journal’s Technology Daily
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urged Latin American countries to go along with the proposal, saying that we must all “come to grips” with the idea that international travel and trade need increased security, and encouraging businesses to go along with security measures as good for them. “The ultimate vision at the end of the day is not only to protect the United States but to protect the world,” he said.
Production of the passport cards is expected to begin next summer, State Department deputy assistant secretary for passport services Frank Moss said.
The government is seeking comments on the proposed regulations. (PDF) “We’re encouraging comments as part of the rulemaking process because we know this has to be a dialogue,” Moss said. Please do comment: go to www.regulations.gov and search for DOS-2006-0329-0001. Comments must be received by December 18.