ur paprz pls
January 17, 2008 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Is the chip in my new Electronic Passport (US) an issue?

I'm pretty much opposed to electronic tracking of all kinds. I know that my brand new passport has the little RFID chip or whatever inside it. Without getting too much into wingnut territory, what are the realistic negatives (or positives) to me of this chip? Is there a way to disable/destroy it? Will doing so cause me problems if I travel abroad (specifically, to or from India)?
posted by papakwanz to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a way to disable/destroy it?
Wired says yes.
posted by toxic at 3:59 PM on January 17, 2008

You could probably get into india with the chip damaged, assuming you could find a way that didn't damage the passport visibly, but it seems highly likely getting back into the US would be painful at best.
The chip isn't 'trackable' from space or anything like that. The best proof-of-concept 'attacks' have managed to increase the range to 10s of feet at best, IIRC.
posted by nomisxid at 4:01 PM on January 17, 2008

You probably don't want to destroy the chip as it will probably be used to verify your passport and your identity. If you're worried about passing attempts at identity theft, line a passport-wallet with aluminum foil, which blocks radio signal, and keep your passport in there.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:03 PM on January 17, 2008

The worst case is that when you come back into the US, they treat it as a "mutilated, altered, or damaged" passport, and they take it or cancel it. And you'd have to renew it, which would be a big waste of money.
posted by smackfu at 4:08 PM on January 17, 2008

the skin depth of a 4 or 5 megahertz rf signal for aluminum is on the order of 30 micrometers, so that suggestion would probably work as long as you get it surrounded on all sides - otherwise it could act like an antenna.

There are lots of ways to destroy transistors - the hammer method may or may not work, never tried it. Microwaves work well, but there is the possibility of fire - that is unless you manage to saturate the surrounding area with water to prevent an actual flare up. It wont take long in the microwave to destroy it so you shouldnt have to leave it in there long enough for it to catch fire.
posted by I_am_jesus at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2008

You could always keep your passport in a case made of wire mesh or inside an anti-static bag. Both would act as a Faraday cage.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:39 PM on January 17, 2008

It could turn it into an antenna RFID chip were an independent radiating source, however you first have to get an rf signal to the chip for it to then radiate its response, so I would think you could get away with having a few micrometer gaps in it.

These guys make wallets and passport holders which are RFID shielding.
posted by mrzarquon at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I took a hammer to my chipped passport, the chip no longer functions (customs just swiped the bar code instead) and I've had no trouble entering the US with it since. YMMV
posted by bizwank at 4:48 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

"This passport must not be altered or mutilated in any way. Alteration could make the passport invalid and if willful, may subject you to prosecution (Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1543)." - page 5 of my passport.
posted by proj08 at 5:28 PM on January 17, 2008

How does the rfid track you any differently than swiping the barcode? RFID is just a different way of recording a number.
posted by gjc at 5:38 PM on January 17, 2008

^ it can be accessed from a distance by anyone with the right equipment (bored collage students, terrorists, etc), and it contains a hell of a lot more than just a number. You might as well be handing out copies of your passport everywhere you go.
posted by bizwank at 5:54 PM on January 17, 2008

this is where I wish I could answer anonymously, so let's just say I know a guy who's been doing some RFID implementation work with the US Gov

How does the rfid track you any differently than swiping the barcode? RFID is just a different way of recording a number.

The issue at hand here isn't with the State Dept tracking you, as you implied, they're going to be able to do that via scanning your barcode (or, further still, manually entering your information). People should be more concerned about what other people / organizations / etc. might be able to pick up your passport information, using the same technology that the SD will be using going forward to analyze your information. The technology necessary to read that kind of information is exceedingly inexpensive and becoming more readily available by the day.

The primary idea behind moving towards RFID tech in passports (as well as in a myriad of other forms of identity, payment, etc.) is to further use technology to speed up transactions and eliminate transactional costs (in this case, although they won't admit it for probably another decade, eliminating 75% of the personnel paid at customs / border crossings). The simple fact of the matter is that technology will very soon be able to check you faster, and more accurately, than humans, in transactions such as these. And it will be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Because this is very recent tech, however, you would have had to have just gotten a new passport in order to actually have an RFID chip in yours. US passports are typically valid for 10 years, so if you renewed one last month, let's say, you have about 9 years, 11 months until you're going to get a chip in yours. I would suspect by that point that most border crossings in (at least) the US will be fully operational to support mostly human-less passport scanning - you'll probably just walk through a gate that scans you and then opens if there's no issue.

Its at that point that you will really start to raise flags if yours isn't working. Probably not too major of flags, as some bugs in the system are to be expected, but you'll probably be more delayed than other people typically are. And then you'll need to factor in the human factor (potential profiling, etc.) a little more heavily into your calculations.

As far as the chip causing you problems abroad, most nations, save maybe Canada and some European nations, probably won't even be aware you have an RFID chip in your passport, at least not for a few years.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:05 AM on January 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

It may or may not cause problems, depending on where you cross. I'm not American, but my British passport has an RFID chip and antenna in it.

The Immigration folks at Heathrow didn't seem to even open my passport the last time I walked through. The just waved it over a little RFID reader and my photo, bio information, list of previous lovers, total net worth, etc, all flashed up on their screen.

Seriously, it doesn't seem like much to worry about. Lots of people still have the old paper passports, so you're probably alright until whatever point in the future paper passports stop being supported. Then again, if you walk through a nice high-tech border crossing, you might be "randomly selected for further scrutiny."

Given the number of RFID things I carry around with me on a given day - Oyster Card, Work ID, Passport, I've ceased to be worried about some dude with an antenna in his pants stealing my passport biodata.
posted by generichuman at 1:11 AM on January 18, 2008

This video explains some vulnerabilities and proposed solutions: http://youtube.com/watch?v=-XXaqraF7pI
posted by chillmost at 1:19 AM on January 18, 2008

on the plus side, an RFID passport gets you into the ultra-fast queue for immigration control at Australian airports (I've seen no benefit to me at various US/UK/European airports, don't know about India)...

on the minus side, you're carrying around a little beacon that says "I'm from one of the handful of countries that issue RFID passports" whenever you have it with you...

the information in the chip is encrypted, but I've read that the key is easily derivable from your personal information - assuming this is the case, the identity theft risk is still low since to derive the key an attacker needs to know your personal information already... when it comes down to it, as long as you keep it in a little faraday cage like the wallets mrzarquon linked I don't believe you're at any significantly increased risk compared to a non-RFID passport...
posted by russm at 1:31 AM on January 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Given the number of RFID things I carry around with me on a given day - Oyster Card, Work ID, Passport, I've ceased to be worried about some dude with an antenna in his pants stealing my passport biodata.

the first atack that sprung to mind when I heard of these RFID passports back whenever it was doesn't care about the data content of the RFID chips... you build a bomb and attach the trigger to an RFID reader (with amplified reception for a 10' range)... set it to detonate when it detects 2 response signals... leave it in a public place in a nation that doesn't issue RFID passports but has plenty of tourists from nations that do... walk away, and some time later when a group of tourists arrive with their passports in their pockets...

from a security analysis perspective, it's not just the data that matters but also the fact that carrying one of these identifies you as being from the handful of nations that issue them... the faraday cage wallets do the job there though...
posted by russm at 1:40 AM on January 18, 2008

"This passport must not be altered or mutilated in any way. Alteration could make the passport invalid and if willful, may subject you to prosecution (Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1543)." - page 5 of my passport.

Which is why you don't hit it with a hammer yourself, but rather talk about how you hate the RFID in your new passport with a good friend, and how you read about the hammer trick. Then you go to the bathroom and leave your passport and a hammer on the table. Then you come back and don't ask any questions.
posted by mikepop at 7:28 AM on January 18, 2008

@ Allkindsoftime- My understanding of RFID is that the tag is only a number, for "other organizations" to cause you trouble they'd need to have access to the database containing the actual information. And that RFID tags are only readable at a fairly small distance like a meter or two.
posted by gjc at 7:48 AM on January 18, 2008

I'm waiting for someone to develop a detonator which activates when a chipped US passport comes near it. Installable in doorways. That's well within the capabilities of RFID.
posted by genghis at 8:14 AM on January 18, 2008

You'll probably have it in your Driver's License too soon enough.

I would destroy it, deny all knowledge of destroying it and complain loudly and publically about it at every chance you get. Although RFID is being pushed out left, right and center by a variety of industries, I still get the impression that the infrastructure is playing catchup. They'll be enough expectations of teething trouble for a few years yet that they'll be happy enough to just scan the barcode on it.

As for india, you shouldn't be wandering around any country with your passport in your pocket. You need to lock it in a hotel or bank safe if at all possible and only carry a photocopy.
posted by Kappi at 11:59 AM on January 19, 2008

allkindsoftime: You seem to say that current US passports don't have RFID chips in them. But I renewed mine about a year ago and the one I got has the symbol on the front cover that means it does have a chip. The SD webpage says as of August 2007 all new US passports have chips.

Do you mean that those symbols are misleading and the passports actually don't have RFID yet?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:11 PM on January 22, 2008

« Older Risks of forgoing health insurance?   |   Can I hear you now? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.