Good Technology Used the Wrong Way

by on April 4, 2005

The U.S. State Department is proposing to use RFID in passports. Bad idea.

Much has been made of the privacy and security risk, by such sites as Yes, “RFID Kills” is waaaay over-the-top, and will certainly sully the technology overall, but it’s with a purpose.

My comments to the State Department deal just as much with the practical question. What good does RFID do in a passport?:

If chips save significant time over optical character readers, the choice of a contactless RFID chip over a contact chip is not explained. This particularly needs justification in light of the security and privacy concerns that come with RFID chips that would store personal information unencrypted.

The configuration of the RFID chip and reader at border crossings would apparently require the chip to be brought within four inches of the reader, meaning that RFID holds a four- inch advantage over a contact chip. If the Department believes that not having to move passports four inches to make contact with a reader will alleviate congestion at international borders, it should say so. If it does not believe this, it should select a non-RFID chip at most, and perhaps withdraw the proposal entirely, sticking with optical character recognition.

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