Wednesday, August 13, 2008

U.S. State Department begins issuing biometric passports

The U.S. State Department has begun issuing electronic passports, with biometric technology. The e-passports are designed for enhanced border security as well as efficient travel screening. Production started at the Colorado Passport Agency and will be expanded to other production facilities over the next few months.

A contactless chip in the rear cover of the passport contains the same data as that found on the biographic data page of the passport (name, date of birth, gender, place of birth, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number), and also includes a digital image of the bearer’s photograph. The passport's format is consistent with the global interoperable specifications adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

A several-layer approach helps protect the privacy of the information and lessens the chances of the electronic data being skimmed (unauthorized reading) or eavesdropped (intercepting communication of the transmission of data between the chip and the reader by unintended recipients). Metallic anti-skimming material incorporated into the front cover and spine of the e-passport book prevents the chip from being skimmed, or read, when the book is fully closed; Basic Access Control (BAC) technology, which requires that the data page be read electronically to generate a key that unlocks the chip, prevents skimming and eavesdropping; and a randomized unique identification (RUID) feature lowers the risk that an e-passport holder could be tracked. The information on the chip includes an electronic signature.

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