U.S. passport privacy: Over and out?

It's December 2005 and you're all set for Christmas in Vienna. You have your most fashionable cold-weather gear, right down to Canada's national red maple leaf embroidered on your jacket and backpack, to conceal your American citizenship from hostile denizens of Europe.

But your secret isn't really safe. As you stroll through the terminal, you pass a nondescript man with a briefcase. The briefcase contains a powerful radio scanner, and simply by walking past, you've identified yourself as an American. Without laying a finger on you, the man has electronically "skimmed" the data in your passport.
(...) "Somebody can identify you as an American citizen from across the street because of the passport in your back pocket," said Albrecht, founder of a Web site concerned with the matter, spychips.com. "You're a walking target."(...)

The chips might be made more secure by encrypting the data they contain. That way, it would be useless even if intercepted. (..) "Encryption limits the global interoperability of the passport," said Shannon (..) of the State Department. (...)

Wrap an RFID chip inside a Faraday cage, and the electromagnetic waves from the chip reader can't get in and activate the chip.

The State Department says it may use the principle to give travelers an added sense of security. No, there won't be rolls of aluminum foil included with every passport. Instead, the passport cover may include a network of wires woven into the fabric. Fold the passport shut, and there's your Faraday cage. (...)

"It took a bunch of criticism before they even mentioned it," Schneier said. And he hopes the anti-snooping technology is thoroughly tested before the new passports are introduced next spring.


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Dezember 2004

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