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US passports go wireless

July 16, 2006

Should Frank really have such a big smile on his face in his new US RFID passport?

CNN has reminded us all that starting next month, US passports will be RFID-enabled.

Engadget has a nice discussion and good linkage on the subject. The State Department’s spin is here. Both are worth reading for the security conscious among us.

While I’m a fan of RFID in many retail and transit scenarios, I’m very glad my passport isn’t due for renewal anytime soon. It reminds me of an anti-skimming patent application I helped file way back when I was at Sun. Only in that case, the primary threat we were addressing was stealing credit card information old fashioned ways, whereas this time around a thief could literally swipe all of the key quantifiable components of your citizenship and identity from a good distance away, never even touching your or your e-passport. Bruce Schneier and many others are justifiably concerned.

If you have a US passport due for renewal anytime soon, you might consider submitting an expedited application early to try to get an old fashioned un-wireless. Hopefully the inevitable issues will be hammered out, and any redesigns complete, before my turn comes up.

Whatever you do, make a mental note that now would be a good time to stop flipping through your passport to show off visas in tourist hangouts…

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