Cool or Lame: Passports Chips

OK, here’s one to weigh in on:

Privacy advocates: 1

US Government: 0

Well, not really zero…it’s probably more like 100 to 1, but this is a victory of sorts for privacy folks in that
they got the government

to back off
a bit from their efforts to make passports more “vulnerable to high-tech snooping”.

We posted about this a while back and there was a bit
of a debate about it. The State Department hoped to embed all passports with a chip containing personal information and
a photograph, but the initial effort would have done so in such a way that the information could have been read by
someone lurking about just a few feet away with an RFID reader…a process called skimming. Privacy folks
called foul, and said there needed to be better encryption. In fact, government tests confirmed that
skimming the info was possible and so have beefed up the encryption and created machines that INS officials will use to
read the passports.

Whether these efforts will pass muster with the privacy folks is an open question…well, not really Many of them
still hate it. But call me an Orwellian, I still don’t think it’s such a bad idea.
Granted some kind of strong encryption was necessary, but making passports harder to forge, and doing something that
might smooth the way through airports seems to me a fair trade off.

One good place to read up on all this is Practical
, who has been following it closely.