UK RFID passport chip
I have written about RFID chips before in the context of the Real ID Act of 2005. I am writing about them again because starting tomorrow, every new US passport that is issued will contain an RFID chip. I saw my first chipped passport earlier this month when an Australian friend came to visit.
According to Wikipedia, the first RFID chipped passports were issued by Malaysia way back in 1998.
“In addition to information also contained on the visual data page of the passport, Malaysian e-passports record the travel history (time, date, and place) of entries and exits from the country.”
According to The New Amerika State Department’s website, our chips “will store the same data visually displayed on the data page of the passport, a biometric identifier in the form of a digital image of the passport photograph, which will facilitate the use of face recognition technology at ports-of-entry, the unique chip identification number and a digital signature to protect the stored data from alteration.”
While the State Department does not say that our travel history will be stored, it also does not state that it won’t be stored. I probably don’t need to remind you that governments sometimes forget to mention things to their citizens.
There are serious concerns about the security of RFID chips and people being able to gather information about your identity remotely. Don’t just think about the possibility of your government tracking your movements – as scary as that is, but also about hackers who would like to steal your identity.
You can disable an RFID chip. According to both Wired magazine and Gizmodo, the only sure way of destroying the RFID chip embedded in your passport is to smash it with a hammer. But do it very carefully because intentionally tampering with a passport is punishable by up to 25 years in jail. (A passport is never your personal property, it actually belongs to the government.) Note to the government of The New Amerika: I am not condoning smashing RFID chips, I am merely disseminating information.
A passport with a non-functioning RFID chip will still be valid until its expiration date. Information will simply be gathered the old-fashioned way through the machine-readable strip.