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New U.S. computerized passport raises safety concerns
Contributed by: G3nu1n3, at 1/04/2005 08:05:00 PM.

When traveling abroad these days, most Americans probably wouldn't want the contents of their passports to be secretly read by strangers.But when a new high-tech passport system goes into effect as early as next spring, that's exactly what critics say could happen.

Before the end of the year, the first U.S. biometric passport will be issued with a tiny computer chip and antenna embedded inside it. The chip will contain a digital image of the person's face, along with other information such as name, birth date and birthplace. The data on the chip can be picked up wirelessly using a radio signal.When the traveler enters the United States, border-control officials will snap a digital photo of the person, scan the data from the passport and run a facial-recognition software program to compare the two images.The system is designed to prevent forged passports by making sure the original passport holder and the person standing at the immigration counter are one and the same.

The problem, security and privacy experts say, is that the technical standard chosen for the system leaves passport data unprotected.The technology allows data on the chip to be read remotely using radio frequency identification or RFID.

That means the passport does not have to be opened or even come in contact with a scanning device. Its contents can be read remotely -- some estimates claim as far away as 30 feet -- without the passport holder knowing anything about it.

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