Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned cryptologist andsecurity expert, and author of AppliedCryptography, has criticized a Bush Administration planto embed special computer chips in all future passports. Amove, Schneier says, that could compromise the privacy andsecurity of American’s traveling abroad, or worse, indicatea sinister motive on behalf of a US Government agency.

Under the Bush initiative, future passports will include aspecial kind of embedded computer chip called an RFID (radiofrequency identification) chip. This chip will contain muchmore information than a traditional passport, and will allowcustoms and passport officials to read the contents of thepassport using an electronic reader.

Unfortunately, these RFID chips could be read at a distanceby anyone with the technical know-how, meaning thattravelers carrying around RFID passports are continuallybroadcasting their identity, including name, nationality,age, address, and any other information contained on thechip. Pickpockets, criminals, kidnappers, and terroristscould easily and surreptitiously pick Americans out of a crowd.

Supporters of the Bush plan claim that RFID chips can onlybe read from a distance of a few centimeters, but inindependent tests conducted by technologists and hackers,RFID chips have been read by receivers as far away as 20meters, and the technology to remotely access RFID chips isimproving all the time.

Why is the Bush Administration deliberately choosing a lessthan secure technology? Bruce Schneier believes there isonly one possible reason: The U.S. government wantssurreptitious access themselves. It could pick Americans,or the foreigners, out of a crowd.

Bruce Schneier’s weblog

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