Electronic Passports

What is an Electronic Passport?

Travel is something that is regulated by the governments of all nations, and it’s easy to see why that is. No country wants to let criminals and other questionable individuals cross into their borders. The only way for somebody to be admitted is to show proper identification with a passport. Passports are official documents that provide the name, nationality, date of birth, and other personal details of the owner, and as of August 2007, all issued passports are of the electronic variety.

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Electronic Passports: The New Standard

As a measure for increased international security, Congress has required all nations involved in the Visa Waiver Program to give out passports with microchips in them. Being identical to the traditional paper passports that we all know and love, the Electronic Passport just includes a small microchip in the outer covering that contains identifying information. The integrated circuit contains the following data: everything shown on the passport’s “data” page, a digital image of the passport photo used as a biometric identifier, the unique identification number of the microchip, and a digital signature that prevents unauthorized individuals to modify the content on the microchip.
Greater Security with Biometrics

As mentioned above, current-issue Electronic Passports store a biometric identifier in the embedded chip. Biometric identifiers are measurable attributes of a person that can be used to verify the person’s identity when required. These human characteristics may be physical or behavioral. The most common biometric identifiers include: fingerprints, facial features scanned using a face recognition technology, and eye features detected using iris scans. US Electronic Passports usually use the individual’s digital photograph as the biometric identifier, and all countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program must also issue Electronic Passports that contain digital images of the owners.

Protecting the Integrated Circuit from Unauthorized Access

Skimming is when an unauthorized party scans the chip to obtain the information contained inside the passport’s chip. Since a metallic layer is added inside all e-passport covers, they cannot be scanned when closed. This means that the passport is only vulnerable when open. Basic Access Control prevents both skimming and eavesdropping. The first time that the chip is scanned using an authorized scanner, cryptographic keys are stored in the chip so that any unauthorized scanners cannot gain access to its contents.

Even when unauthorized scanners cannot access the chip, they are still provided with the unique identifier for the chip. As a result, the passport owner can be tracked. To prevent tracking, a random number generator will assign a new unique identifier to the chip after each time it is accessed.

Cloning refers to swapping out an original chip for another chip containing the personal information of another individual. Scanning the replaced chip with an authorized scanner will easily show the discrepancy between the info on it and the info on the data page. If they don’t match, the individual presenting the passport will be denied.

Electronic Passports Make Traveling Easier

With the use of Electronic Passports, traveling will become much more hassle-free for all. Border security checks will take far less time when border police are already equipped with computers that have everyone’s information on file. Verifying somebody’s identity should only takes seconds with face recognition software after the e-passport has been handed over to a guard and scanned, but it’s not just time that is saved with this biometric technology. E-passports make it nearly impossible to mistake the identity of an individual, and this will ensure that only the people who have been proven that they are who they say they are will be allowed to cross into another country. Con-artists and other criminals who use elaborately-made false passports will have an extremely difficult time sliding past inspection. With e-passports, inspections will become so much more efficient as there will be no more need for shuffling through stacks of paper documents or visually comparing passport owners with their photos for verification.