The government has approved a method of
making passports “smart”, by embedding chips in passport
covers that contain a compressed electronic image of a person’s face. The microchips will be designed to prevent
tampering or duplication, and each digital image will be cryptographically signed to guarantee its authenticity. Of
course, some civil liberties folks say that the move is another small step towards a THX-1138-like future where we
become numbers in a gigantic database and our every move is watched by John Ashcroft.
The Government Printing Office expects to ramp up production to quantities above 1 million electronic passports
in 2005. By 2006, all new passports are expected to have the electronic capability incorporated. The GPO currently
produces more than 7 million passports each year.
There remain questions, however, whether any system can stop terrorists. ”Never forget that everybody behind
September 11 was using photo ID,” says Richard
Clayton, a hardware security expert at Cambridge University in the UK. “It will raise the bar considerably,” he
says, but will only identify known suspects or those with forged passports.