The US Department of State has begun issuing the new Electronic Passport (e-passport) to enhance border security. This new document uses computer chip technology and holds the same information that is printed in a non-electronic passport: name, date and place of birth, gender, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number, and photo image of the bearer. Many security experts believe that now, since this information is stored electronically on embedded chips, it will be “skimmed” and that the government is using inadequate security measures to protect you.

At the Defcon conference, a worldwide computer hacking event held earlier this year in Las Vegas, German computer security expert Lukas Grunwald showed how personal information stored in the e-passport could be copied and transferred to another chip. To address these privacy concerns, the US State Department reports they’ve incorporated an anti-skimming device into the e-passport’s cover and included basic access control (BAC) technology. Experts counter this is old technology that certainly will be broken within the 10 year life of an e-passport.

If you have concerns about becoming, as one security expert put it, “a guinea pig”, the old style, non-electronic passport is still being issued from some passport offices. Just how long this will be true is uncertain, as the State Department has conflicting information on their own web site. If your passport is close to the expiration date, go ahead and spring for a renewal now. I just got mine renewed, and it’s still the non-electronic type.

Steve Smith & Christine Johnson