Your Chips Please!
January 19, 2011 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Tin Foil Hat Filter. Recommend a RFID shielded U.S. Passport cover?

I just got my passport renewed. It has the RFID chip. I'm not a "CIA implanted radio chips in my teeth" kinda fellow, but there's conflicting info out there. For example, Bruce Schneier seems to take a dim view of the chips in U.S. passports (here, though it's from 2006). Now, most likely it's excess paranoia, but if a possible problem can be solved without too much trouble, perhaps better excess safe than excess sorry.

I looked online for some covers, but they are either out of stock, hideous beyond belief or extremely bulky. Any recommendations?

And yes, I'd take the passport out of the cover at the border so the customs official doesn't have to deal with extra hassle.
posted by VikingSword to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just hit it with a hammer.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:25 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Err, thanks, I think, Thoughtcrime... from your link:

tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison. Not to mention the “special” customs search, with rubber gloves. Bon voyage!

I should have specified in my post that I'm not interested in disabling/destroying the chip, merely buying myself some possibly excessive peace of mind.
posted by VikingSword at 2:30 PM on January 19, 2011

They get damaged/destroyed on accident all the time.
posted by proj at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2011

There's absolutely no way that they can prove that you took a hammer to the chip (unless they find this thread, I guess), and people fly with chip-free passports all the time. I still have my chip-free passport (renewed in 2002 so still valid) and I've never been hassled.

But if you want the chip intact, you could just cover it with foil, or just keep it tightly closed with rubber bands or a binder clip. The chip allegedly can't broadcast unless the passport is open, since there's shielding in the passport cover.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:35 PM on January 19, 2011

When I got mine in 2007, it came with copious warnings about how pretty much any persnickety little thing could render the RFID chip inoperable. I got the impression that they are pretty fiddly and have happily exposed my passport to heat, cold, moisture, close proximity to my cell phone and magnets, and basically any abuse I could come up with over the last 3 years.

Abuse away!
posted by Sara C. at 2:41 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Tinfoil is pretty unsightly. As I said, I'd rather avoid hideous solutions, aesthetics are important to me - c'mon, I buy Apple products :). I read the claim about "not being able to read closed", but I've seen competing claims that it just ain't so. And while I appreciate the disabling ethic, this is not an instance where I want to exercise my "stick it to the man" muscle. Nice and legal, please - make that handsome and legal. Thanks.
posted by VikingSword at 2:41 PM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: The passport is harder to read when the cover is closed. It is only when you open it to present it to someone does it become easier to read by nefarious individuals.

So taking it out to present at the border, hotels, consulate, whatever will defeat the purpose that cover.

I've had a passport with the chip, a passport card with the chip, and a Visa card with a chip for years. In all the places they supposed to work, they don't and to day not a single bit of data on those cards have been intercepted. I cross several times a month by land between US/MX and the San Ysidro port of entry only has one reader in its SENTRI lane (and even in that lane, you have to put the damn card in contact with the reader). Everyone else gets it scanned with the reader thing like we've been doing since forever.

My biggest worry is not someone is reading the chip, but for the physical protection of the document. So I carry the passport in a container that keeps it from damage and from me losing the damn thing.

But if it makes you feel better, get a condom like this for you passport.
posted by birdherder at 2:42 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Putting your passport in the freezer for a day or so is not illegal, or at least not illegal in any meaningful sense.
posted by Sara C. at 2:43 PM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I don't have personal experience with these, but ThinkGeek typically has good stuff:

Expensive option
Cheaper option
posted by i love cheese at 3:11 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

But if it makes you feel better, get a condom like this for you passport.

Passport cards actually come with their own appropriately sized foil-lined sleeve.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:12 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: Birdherder, thanks for a dose of reality. That 'expensive option' looks nice, i love cheese. Keep 'em coming folks!
posted by VikingSword at 3:14 PM on January 19, 2011

Here are some possible options for RFID-blocking passport covers:

ID Stronghold
Travelon on Amazon
posted by thewildgreen at 3:19 PM on January 19, 2011

Even more expensive options.
posted by thewildgreen at 3:37 PM on January 19, 2011

It would be a real shame if you accidentally dropped your passport in a microwave oven, then turned it on. That will kill the chip - with no visible evidence.
posted by COD at 4:21 PM on January 19, 2011

You could also pick up a passport cover you like, and some conductive fabric from the tinfoil-hat set at lessemf to line it with. (I buy conductive fabric from them to make clothes with integrated electronics, and it always gives me a little chuckle to think how my uses are essentially the opposite of their intentions for the stuff.)
posted by polymath at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2011

I have the ThinkGeek option for both passport and wallet and can attest to the fact that it really does work. I used to keep my parking pass in my wallet and would wave the whole wallet at the reader (because I am lazy and stupid, yes, I know). When I got the new wallet I just transferred everything over from the old wallet like I had always done before without even thinking about it. So sure enough the next morning I was sitting there in the garage for what felt like an eternity waving my wallet in front of the reader like a madman wondering what in the FUCK is wrong with this damned thing before it dawned on me like an idiot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:47 PM on January 19, 2011

It sure would be terrible if someone stepped on their passport by accident and broke the fairly delicate loop antenna without which the RFID doesn't function. Yep, that sure would be terrible.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:14 PM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I dabble in bookbinding, and built a Faraday cage passport holder for a friend as a present. I can build one for you for the cost of shipping. You can even send my your second-favorite patch or piece of fabric to be used as the cover. (Second-favorite in case something goes horribly, horribly wrong.)
posted by aniola at 6:44 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, I ordered the steel mesh one from ThinkGeek. Special thanks to aniola for the super kind offer - I don't have any special fabric though:(
posted by VikingSword at 9:52 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: UPDATE: So, today I received the Stainless Steel RFID Blocking Passport Sleeve.

It's a disaster. Rarely have I gone so wrong with a purchase as with this. There's one huge, huge, huge problem - the material it's made from, the stainless steel mesh is extraordinarily, epically, insanely - I'm running out of adjectives - prone to extreme smudging. I mean extreme. I took it out of the box, and I immediately noticed it had huge finger and palm prints on it. How bad? It's as if a car mechanic worked on cleaning out burned engine oil, and without as much as wiping his hands, handled this sleeve. It's that bad. I was going to immediately turn around and send it back as defective, but I tried to clean it up first. I tried a damp paper towel. I tried my special Lens Cleaning Pre-Moistened Zeiss wipes. All it did is move the smudges around and spread it. It's unrecoverable. Now, I'd have sent it back as defective... then I noticed that merely handling it with my own hands (washed hands) leaves hideous dark smudges on the metal meshing that no amount of cleaning gets rid of. It's in the nature of the beast. And then I noticed the disclaimer that the sleeve is meant to "wear". Yeah, right.

It looks horrible and filthy and I have not even had it for more than 30 minutes. I'll eat the + shipping close to $60, and lesson learned. It's hard to buy certain items online. This is a prime example. STAY AWAY.

Also, the inside holder for the passport itself is not what I imagined, it's just two flimsy plastic strips that leave your passport permanently cracked open, unlike my old leather passport holder that had a special pocket. PASS.

ThinkGeek are just distributors of this horrible product. I don't know who makes this atrocity, but looking around, I always come across this: and it's on the box this turd came in. Ugh.
posted by VikingSword at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2011

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