E-passports to be launched amid security, privacy concerns

The first wave of e-passports will be issued in the U.S. in the coming weeks despite lingering privacy and security concerns. A German security expert has demonstrated how e-passports – equipped with an RFID chip containing biometric data – can be copied using a laptop computer, an RFID reader and smart card reader software.

And German chip maker Infineon Technologies AG will supply chips for the new electronic passports that the U.S. will begin issuing in the coming weeks.

Of the 15 million e-passports to be issued by the end of the year, several million of them will be equipped with Infineon chips, the manufacturer said Monday.

Earlier this month, a German security expert at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas demonstrated how e-passports — equipped with an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip containing biometric data — could be copied using a laptop computer, an RFID reader and smart card reader software.

The chip contained in each new U.S. passport issued from October will contain personal data, such as the bearer’s name, date of birth, validity period and a digital photo of the individual.

The e-passport, according to Infineon, is designed with multiple security levels, including the basic access control (BAC). This security feature requires the border control inspector to pass the document over a scanner that reads coded information and then authorizes the electronic reader to access the data stored on the chip. Data transmission occurs over a distance of only around four inches, or 10 centimeters.

More than 50 individual security mechanisms are inside the Infineon chip, including sophisticated computing methods for encrypting data. Protective shields on the surface of the chip and sensors also help prevent unauthorized people from being able to read the contents of the chip.

Infineon, which is located in Munich, is supplying chips for e-passport to several other countries, including Germany, Norway and Sweden.

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