RFID Chips in Passports

Since the requirement by the U.S. Department of State in 2006, all U.S. Passports are now issued with an RFID chip. While this has caused a bit of a stir in the media, and among personal privacy organizations, the RFID chip is here to stay, and it is nowhere near as insidious as people make it out to be.

What is an RFID chip?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are inexpensive to produce, can contain a lot of information for their size, and have become the replacement for the bar code. You may find that when you are adopting a pet, that the animal has been tagged with a passive RFID chip in case it gets lost or stolen. This chip can be used simply as a location device, but it may be advanced enough to contain your pet’s name, medical history, and even (in the case of pedigreed animals) its family tree.

Long before the RFID was introduced into U.S. Passports, the private sector had been using RFID tags to track shipments, keep tabs on in-store inventory, and even as a loss-prevention method. Wal*Mart is, in fact, the largest user of RFID tags in the world.

What does the RFID in a U.S. Passport contain?

This is perhaps the most common question raised by people in the United States, and a very valid one. If RFID tags on pets can contain their entire history, can’t our passports contain all of our vital information?

The truth is that they can, but for reasons of privacy and security, U.S. Passports do not contain any personal information, apart from what is normally printed on your passport. Simply put, the RFID chip in your U.S. Passport contains a number that is linked to a database at the U.S. Department of State. This means that in case you lose your passport, it can easily be tracked. This not only increases the security of the passport owner by protecting against forgeries and identity theft, but there is also a less red tape involved in case a passport needs to be replaced, simply because that information is locked in a federal database.

How does an RFID chip work?

The information stored on the RFID chip in your U.S. Passport is encrypted and accessible by an RFID reader. This short range reader must be within ten feet of your passport in order to get access to the information stored on the RFID chip, and even then, the built-in encryption only allows authorized security personnel to go through the additional steps to make sure you are cleared for travel. The reader scans the RFID chip in your passport, and the reader is then prompted for a security pin that is linked to the information on your security chip. This is done as an even further measure to protect your information. The lining of your passport is also specially made so that your RFID chip cannot be read while the covers are closed, meaning that no one could make an attempt to get your information (which is already encrypted on a number of levels) unless they had physical access to your passport, or full consent.

Are there any risks to having an RFID chip?

As it stands, the RFID chip poses no risks to to a person’s health, and this far, even security experts agree that an RFID chip placed in a U.S. Passport actually has made not only travel safer, but has also dramatically cut down the number of cases of forged passports and identity theft. Having an easy to read RFID chip in a passport, on top of the increased security it provides to travelers, also cuts down on the processing time at the airport. Before RDIF chips, passports were subject to scrutiny to make certain of their authenticity, because paper and physical photographs can be substituted. Now, with the RFID chip, all it takes is a quick scan, and the information that pops up on the reader’s screen is matched against the person presenting the passport. It couldn’t be easier. So long as you are you, everything will go smoothly.

Bottom line

The RFID chip that’s in a U.S. Passport is nothing to worry about, despite what the media tells you on slow news days. RFID is a method to keep your information secure, cut down on the bureaucracy involved in case your passport is lost or stolen while you are traveling, and cuts down the waiting procedure at the airport. With this information, you can travel safely and confidently with your new U.S. Passport.