[LINK] RFID/Biometric E-Passports
cyberwlf at ami-media.net
Tue Aug 24 00:27:16 EST 2004
On the subject of all the RFID debate over the last week or so was this
"Countries such as the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, US, Australia,
and New Zealand are currently looking into adding RFID chips (
http://www.rfidgazette.org/2004/08/rfid_in_biometr.html ) to citizens'
passports. The chips would contain data such as a digital image of the
person's face. A real-time facial scan of the carrier of the passport
would then be matched to the data encoded in the chip. But privacy
advocates such as CASPIAN are concerned that this data could get into
the hands of the wrong people or that governments could use the data to
track their citizens as they go about their personal business. But,
with all of the terrorist threats lately, bringing passport documents
into the digital world is sure to increase security." (souce:
"E-passports to put new face on old documents
By Michael Kanellos
One of the basic forms of personal identification, the passport, is on
the verge of taking on a new, high-tech identity.
A number of countries are about to launch trials of passports and visas
that incorporate basic biometric information about the document holder
alongside the traditional photo and passport number--data such as a
digital image of the citizen's face that will be compared to a facial
scan taken at the airport.
Countries from Belgium to the United States are moving toward trials of
passports that incorporate basic biometric data.
Critics worry about identity theft and government surveillance, but
proponents say the technology guards against those dangers and provides
better protection against fraud and other crimes.
The first country to take the plunge will likely be Belgium, which
plans to conduct an e-passport trial later this year, with possible
real-world implementation by next year. The U.K. Passport Office
recently announced that it is looking for volunteers to help test the
recording and verification of facial recognition, iris and fingerprint
biometrics. And New Zealand and Canada are also actively looking into
Australia and the United States, meanwhile, have issued requests for
proposals for trials of their own, and the Netherlands is looking at
ways for banks to adopt chip-based documents that would be used to
In part, the incorporation of digital data is a natural evolution that
brings what have long been purely paper documents into the 21st
century. In addition, with global worries about terrorism and other
threats on the rise, the technology shift will help governments keep
their border checks up-to-date. Banks and other institutions are likely
to use the high-tech documents to provide better verification of
customers and cut down on fraud and other crimes involving mistaken
"When biometric identity has been confirmed, it does help to prevent
the person from using another name in their dealings," said Barry
Kefauver, a consultant and former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of
state for passport services.
Critics of the technology, however, are worried that governments might
use the data to track citizens going about their ordinary business or
that miscreants who steal the high-tech passports might be better
equipped to carry out identity theft.
"It is too easy to steal information out of a card," said Katherine
Albrecht, the founder and director of Consumers Against Supermarket
Privacy Invasion and Numbering, or CASPIAN, a policy watchdog created
to expose data issues with supermarket loyalty programs.
Proponents acknowledge these concerns. But they say they've included
technology that will shield private information contained in e-passport
memory chips and keep it from falling into the hands of unauthorized
parties. Security systems are never perfect, but the internal systems
on these chips will make it difficult to surreptitiously read (or
alter) information the chips contain.
"You are not able to track a person except when tracking them in and
out of a city," said Joerg Borchert, vice president of secure mobile
solutions at Infineon Technologies. Governments already have that
ability using old-fashioned passports, he added.
Infineon, the German chipmaking giant, has been active in moving the
technology out of the labs and has been bidding on the various passport
projects. It has begun to ship samples of two identification chips it
says can improve travel security and cut down on problems such as bank
fraud because they contain more than 50 mechanisms designed to foil
At the same time, the company has tried to preserve privacy by
including an encryption processor that scrambles data coming out of the
identity documents and reducing the range for extracting data from the
chips to just a few inches. The chips are "contactless," meaning that
the information contained in them is extracted wirelessly by a reading
One of the chips will function as a smart card and contain information
such as credit card numbers and insurance information, while the other,
designed for passports, will contain only ID information such as facial
images or fingerprints. The chips are available in sample quantities
now but will go into high-volume production by the end of the year.
The push for better passports began in 1997 under the guidance of the
International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, a UN agency. An
ICAO technology working group was charged with establishing better
security standards for travel documents, standards that could be
applied worldwide and would be cost effective.
In 2002, ICAO came out with what is called the "New Orleans Resolution"
(named after the city where it was voted on). In the resolution, ICAO
endorsed facial recognition as the biometric identification technology
of choice, with fingerprints and iris scans as optional, supplemental
forms of biometric identification.
Fingerprints--despite providing the most accurate means of identifying
a person--were ruled out because of the criminal overtones. Governments
worried that their citizens would feel like they were being arrested.
"Australia, Canada and the U.S. ruled it out right away," said
Kefauver, the former U.S. official, who chaired the technology working
group on this issue for ICAO.
If nations begin to adopt electronic passports, the process of boarding
an international flight will take on a slightly different feel. Customs
agents will examine a passport and then request that a traveler stand
in a particular spot, where a facial recognition device will then scan
that person's face. Customs agents will then swipe the electronic
passport past a reader.
A positive match would permit a traveler to proceed, while a mismatch
would lead to further ID checks. In the United States and possibly
other countries, the two images would also be correlated to an image in
a remote database. If a nation required it, fingerprints or iris scans
could also be taken.
How it differs from RFID
Technologically, the chips proposed for passports are more
sophisticated than standard RFID, or radio frequency identification,
tags, said Infineon's Borchert. RFID technology, a kind of high-tech
bar code, is being adopted by retailers to keep tabs on their
merchandise and, in more extreme cases, it's being promoted as a way to
First, the distance at which an e-passport chip can be read is far
shorter. Though readers can wake up some RFID tags from as far away as
400 feet, depending on the reader and the tag, the reader in Infineon's
ID system has to be as close as 10.5 centimeters, or about four inches,
to obtain information.
Second, unlike many RFID tags, e-passport chips come with a built-in
encryption engine. Even if hackers could obtain one reading, they would
have to take repeated readings before they could translate the data
coming out of the chip from encrypted gobbledygook into actual
information. Even then, at least in the passport chips, the thieves
would only be able to get a digital image of someone's face.
Electronic passports also contain several layers of tamper-proofing to
prevent criminals or others from removing the chip or altering data
stored in its embedded memory, which is a nonstandard form of
nonvolatile memory. Changes in temperature or light will shut the chip
down. Borchert would not disclose other antitampering techniques
embodied in the chips.
"Getting into these chips is going to take more than your average bear.
There will be MIT students who do it, but it probably won't be
widespread," said Jim Handy, an analyst at Semico Research. "You will
have to know how the chip is encrypted and how it is programmed."
Borchert acknowledged that the system isn't perfect and inevitably
would be vulnerable to attacks, but he said it improves on existing
More work to be done
It is a technology still in its infancy. The United States, for
instance, recently extended the deadline for 21 nations in a visa
waiver program to begin to incorporate biometrics into passports. The
cutoff was originally set for October; it's been pushed back a year.
And still to be worked out is how to reconcile the rapid progress of
the chip industry with the slower pace of government agencies--in the
United States, for example, passports get renewed every 10 years.
Looming questions, Handy said, include whether older chips will become
easy to crack and whether older passports would be compatible with new
The chips also need to be thin enough to fit inside a passport cover
and be outfitted with antennae.
Then there's the way passports get handled. Over their lifespan, the
documents get bent, sweat on and pounded with border-crossing stamps.
"Durability is perhaps the single biggest unknown," Kefauver said.
In addition, facial recognition is considered less accurate than other
forms of biometric authentication, according to security experts. And
global interoperability of equipment needs to be put in place, as does
a coordination of national practices. Some nations may adopt algorithms
that compare the geometry of the nose bridge between the live person
and the stored ID image, while others may compare the larger, facial
Electronic passports also don't solve one of the key problems with
passport issuance: birth certificates. In the United States alone,
there are thousands of legitimate forms of birth documents, and they
are not linked through a uniform methodology, Kefauver said.
But the biggest hurdle, despite the assurances of security experts,
could be public perception.
"Unless public acceptance of biometric (authentication) occurs, forget
the rest," Kefauver said.
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