ePassports: RFID vs. Smart Cards

10/19/2006, "Proposed Passport Card with RFID Technology Bad News for Privacy and Security, Says Smart Card Alliance"

Using the long read range radio frequency identification (RFID) technology the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and State Department are proposing for passport cards will do little to increase the security of the nation’s borders, and opens up possibilities that U.S. citizens could be tracked, the Smart Card Alliance said today. The Alliance contends that a more privacy sensitive and secure passport card solution using the same contactless smart card technology found in the new electronic passports (ePassports) can improve border security without causing delays at crossings.

“Using long range RFID technology is a major step backwards for government-issued identity credentials,” said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance. “These RFID tags simply don’t have the security features necessary to protect the border and also maintain citizen privacy.

“The stated goal of the passport card program is to help secure the border without compromising citizen privacy or efficiency at the border crossing. The only proven technology that meets all of these objectives is the contactless smart card technology that is used in the ePassport. This would achieve the objective of a faster, more secure means for tens of millions of citizens to cross back into our borders from land and sea, while still protecting the security and privacy of individuals,” concluded Vanderhoof.

Part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), the proposed passport card is an option that can be used instead of a regular passport book when U.S. citizens are re-entering the United States from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean at land and sea entry points. Today, only about 25 percent of U.S. citizens carry passports. The Department of State has announced that the proposed passport card will use long range RFID technology that conforms to ISO/IEC 18000-6, Type C, "Radio frequency identification for item management — Part 6.” This standard, published by ISO in July 2006, is based on the EPC Gen 2 Class 1 UHF standard developed by EPCglobal. EPCglobal is the organization working to develop standards for the Electronic Product Code™ (EPCs) to support the use of RFID in the supply chain environment. According to the State Department Federal Register notice, machines at border crossings would read information on the RFID tag and link the passport card to a secure U.S. government database containing biographical data and a photograph. While the RFID tag in the card itself would not hold any personal information, each card will transmit a unique reference number that can be read from up to 20 feet away.