Wednesday, January 18, 2006

DHS Testing E-Passports in San Francisco

Jan. 18, 2006—At the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun a three-month trial to test the RFID technology that underlies electronic passports (e-passports). The e-passports contain RFID inlays, encoded with biographic and biometric information about the passport holder, and are designed in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

The goal of the test is to assess how the RFID interrogators and biometric equipment needed to process the e-passports will impact the passport inspection process, how well the RFID interrogators are able to read the tags embedded in the passports, and to gather information that can support other countries in their development and implementation of e-passports that comply with ICAO standards.

The number of passports tested during the trial will depend on how many e-passport holders travel through SFO or the two other airports participating in the trial: the Changi Airport in Singapore and the Sydney Airport in Australia. Any of the roughly 200,000 citizens from Australia and New Zealand that have been issued electronic passports and are traveling through the three airports would participate. The same goes for any Singapore Airlines crewmembers that have been issued e-passports from Singapore (the country has issued approximately 2,000 thus far). U.S. citizens who had been issued electronic passports would also participate.

Come October, all U.S. passports will be issued as e-passports (see United States Sets Date for E-Passports). The State Department decided to begin issuing e-passports in hopes of making passports more secure documents and harder to counterfeit. It also hopes that they will expedite passport inspection agents' verification process.

Nearly all of the more than 2,000 comments that U.S. State Department received in response to its proposal to embed RFID tags into passports were written in opposition to the practice, and listed specific concerns over the security of the data encoded to the tags and the personal privacy of the citizens who will carry them.

To address these concerns, the government added a security feature known as Basic Access Control (BAC) to its e-passport design. BAC is designed to prevent the unauthorized reading, or "skimming," of information from e-passports. It uses a personal identification number that has to be sent to an RFID interrogator before it can access the data encoded on an e-passport's tag.

Encoded on a U.S. e-passport's tag is a digital image of the passport holder, which can be compared with the passport holder's face during the passport inspection process, using biometric comparison technology, to ensure that the image saved to the e-passport and the image of the person presenting the passport match.

The test, which began Jan. 15 and will run until April 15, is the DHS's second. Its first test of the technology took place in Los Angeles International airport (LAX) this summer, and was conducted to support efforts to develop and implement e-passports compliant with ICAO standards. Participants in the LAX test were limited to crewmembers of Air New Zealand, Qantas and United Airlines who had been issued e-passports.


Blogger Gary said...

If we got our passport before 2006, do we need to renew our passports to get one of these e-passports? I need my passport in a few weeks, so is there a way to expedite passports and make it available by August?

9:42 AM  

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