The New York Times > Washington > Bowing to Critics, U.S. to Alter Design of Electronic Passports (registration required)

Frank E. Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said in an interview on Tuesday that government tests confirmed privacy advocates’ suspicions that the electronic passport might be vulnerable to so-called skimming from a greater distance than officials had previously said, meaning a matter of three or so feet instead of inches.

“You do perhaps face a risk of a reading without the knowledge of the passport bearer, and that is obviously something we want to protect against,” Mr. Moss said.

To prevent that, the special electronic passport readers used by Customs officials in the United States and their counterparts around the world would use data printed on the new passport to effectively unlock the radio chip before it would transmit the personal electronic information it holds, Mr. Moss said.

The personal data flowing to the passport reader would also be encrypted, so that someone trying to use an unauthorized electronic reader in the area could not intercept and decipher the identity of the passport holder, he said, confirming a report about the design changes that first appeared Tuesday on the Internet site.

More in the NYTimes article.

In addition to the two layers noted above, the article also mentions that the passport cover would also be layered with a protective metallic material.

Although I really am concerned about the direction overall, I am glad to see that they realize the dangers and have incorporated these multi-layer verifications.

I sure hope they don’t back down on it. These are the minimum steps needed.

Thanks to our Firesign Theatre friend, Klok for bringing this article to my attention.

NOTE: Originally posted: April 2005 (recreated from mangled original

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