On Canada Day earlier this week, the government quietly rolled out new passports with enhanced electronic security features which it claimed rendered the travel document “more tamper-proof.”
Canadians also have the option of applying for a five or 10 year validity period.
Passports embedded with electronic chips came under a cloud of doubt some four years ago over data theft concerns and as numerous reports from security and technology researchers indicated that the radio frequency ID (RFID) chips in the documents could be cracked and the information contained stolen. Some researchers also demonstrated that hackers armed with an RFID reader can capture data from the electronic chips and the data contained in the chips could be “cloned” or altered.
Passport Canada said it is unlikely that personal information stored on its ePassport chips could be read without the owner’s knowledge.
To guard against hacking, data in the chip cannot be read unless the passport is held “within 10 cenitimetres of an ePassport reader, open to page 2 and the machine-readable zone has first been read.”
The data store in the passport’s chip is also electronically locked so that the information cannot be tampered with.
More than 100 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, the Philippines and China have been using ePassports for several years now “with no reported failures,” according to Passport Canada. The government office also conducted a pilot program in 2009 involving more than 60,000 diplomatic and special passports that contained an electronic chip and “no problems were reported.”