US passport RFID flaws

The RFID chip on US passports can be read when the passport is even slightly open, a design flaw that needs to be fixed. Why? Watch the proof of concept. A dummy with a barely open passport on a moving clothesline is scanned, then a bomb is triggered automatically. An outlandish example? Sure. But still…

In probable response to such critics, the State Department has added new levels of security to passports, but flaws still exist.

Given how insecure passport information appears to be, the ACLU says, imagine what could happen if Homeland Security builds that giant database with our personal and sensitive data on it.

From security expert Bruce Schneier writing in 2005.

The State Department downplayed these risks by insisting that the RFID chips only work at short distances. In fact, last week’s publication claims: “The proximity chip technology utilized in the electronic passport is designed to be read with chip readers at ports of entry only when the document is placed within inches of such readers.” The issue is that they’re confusing three things: the designed range at which the chip is specified to be read, the maximum range at which the chip could be read and the eavesdropping range or the maximum range the chip could be read with specialized equipment. The first is indeed inches, but the second was demonstrated earlier this year to be 69 feet. The third is significantly longer.

And remember, technology always gets better — it never gets worse. It’s simply folly to believe that these ranges won’t get longer over time.


  1. Not outlandish, no. Condescending in the extreme to think that people outside of this country can’t use RFID technology for their own advantage (whatever that might be). And stupid in the extreme to think our government will do anything to prevent it until forced.

    I was victimized by identify theft — *three* times. Each storm of theft came with a pile of paperwork and hours of phonecalls. No, I’m not a daycare worker who lives in Fontana. No, I didn’t order tens of thousands of dollars of computer equipment to be delivered to east Culver City. No, I’m not a resident of Pittsburgh and I didn’t order twenty cellphones. Etcetera. Many etceteras.

    It may have been that form W-9 I gave to the office manager where I audited. (As it arose, she probably participated in the embezzlement occuring there). It may have been the Ford I bought on credit. (Somebody at Ford Credit sold credit files to a crime ring, for $1 a name). It may have been the billing clerk at the health provider. It may have been all of them or others.

    I finally called the social security administration and asked for a new social security number. Their representative said I could only get a new number if I was “inconvenienced.”

    What on earth is “inconvenienced”, if not a month of misery? “When you are arrested by the police for the crimes of another,” he said.

    So I think you understand why when I say I have no faith that the security measures put in place by the State Department will work. Or that they will be able to deal with it effectively when the resulting disaster blows up in their faces.

  2. By “condescending” I meant that the government (State Department, e.g.) or mind-set is condescending that believes that those outside of United States borders cannot and will not exploit this technology.

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