More and more countries around the world are now issuing passports that contain RFID chips. Chances are, if you carry a passport issued within the last 3 years from the United States, a European Union member, or one of 50-plus other countries, your passport has a tiny chip in the cover that contains information about you. These RFID chips are designed to be scanned wirelessly to prevent fraud; but what data about you exactly is stored on your passport RFID chip?
What Is RFID?
RFID stands for “radio-frequency identification” which makes sense when you think of its most common uses outside of passports. Those of your traveling with pets, who’ve been good owners and followed all the rules, should be familiar with the identification microchip, usually placed on your animal’s neck. RFID tags are also placed on inventory so companies can better track them in warehouses. The technology is becoming more widespread basically anywhere one would want to track things over wireless, cheaply.
RFID comes in three forms (passports use passive reader active tags in case you were wondering) but basically it’s a short range technology, meaning it’s not designed to transmit or be read over long distances. The RFID chips in a passport are activated by a special type of reader that gives them enough energy to dump their contents. Most of the controversy about biometric passports revolves around what information is on them and how far away their contents can actually be read.
What’s On Most Passport RFID Chips
This varies from country to country since the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which sets world passport standards, hasn’t specified what data should (or shouldn’t) be on RFID chips. For American citizens, there is no personal information stored on the RFID tag, simply a reference code to a file the government keeps on you and agents can access at passport control. Most other countries store data directly on the chip itself. For Europeans this typically means all of the information about you inside of the passport (e.g. name, date of birth, etc.) plus your photo and fingerprints.
Again, it depends. The best place to find out what is on your passport RFID chip is to consult the government body that issues passports in your country. Also, it’s important to note that this data is almost always encrypted; though it’s shoddy.
What concerns privacy advocates is that the data from passport RFID chips can be read from a distance (wirelessly) with someone with the right equipment and knowledge. So, although most governments claim the data is only readable from 10 centimeters away (~4 inches), computer security experts have been able to get at them from 160 meters (~525 feet).
Royce Leather RFID Blocking Passport Currency Wallet (Coco/Coco)
How To Tell If Your Passport Uses RFID And Protect Your Information
The aforementioned ICAO does have a few requirements for biometric passports and one is that they display the logo (shown right) on the front cover. If you see that symbol on your passport, it’s got an RFID chip in it (usually somewhere along the interior back cover). And although they can be read with relative ease, you can protect yourself with even less effort. American passports are already shielded with a thin coat of metal on the cover, so RFID chips can only be read when the passport is open. Everyone else, an RFID shielding wallet is a simple fix, plus safer than a hammer or microwaving your passport.
Most interesting. When I renewed my U.S. passport in 2007, I just naturally presumed it had the new chip. But – as your article states that it must show the logo, I checked my passport and… it doesn’t have one.
So I did a quick Google, and turns out… the so called chips were initiated in U.S. passports the end of July ’07, and… my renewed passport just squeezed by with an issue date of April ’07. Guess I won’t have one of those infernal chips til expires in ’17.
Who knows what might be in passports then 😉
No doubt my entire Facebook timeline plus what brand of toothpaste I use! 😉
I just got a new passport last October and noticed it has a chip as well so I immediately bought an RFID wallet when I was at the airport.
It’s been awhile since I last visited your blog.
Happy 2013 Anil!
Any ideas what’s stored on the Turkish passport?
Yes, it conforms to the EU standard. Facial features, dimensions of eyes, nose, and other physical characteristics as well as two finger prints from each index finger.
So RFID blocking a US passport (no personal info) isn’t a big deal? I was kind of worried and wondering if I needed protection.
In my opinion I wouldn’t bother.
Good article! If anyone is interested in actually watching an RFID catch fire in a microwave, there might still be one dedicated to that at Brave New Books in Austin, TX compliments of the 5-11 Campaign. It’s not practical, but it can be gratifying to see if you’re kinda done with government issue RFIDs. It’s like a very tiny pyrotechnics show.
Something like this 🙂 [NSFW due to language]
Exactly. All that’s missing is a tiny little man doing falsetto metal vocals.
For your info… Canada will emit its first RFID passports starting in July 2013 (progressively, full deployment for the end of the year where ALL new passports will have it)… and will at the same time extend the duration of the passport to 10 years (currently is 5 yrs). Since Canada is aligned with the US for most security concerns (in the view of a global North-American security perimeter), it’s most likely it will have the same data as the US one.
I’m leaving in June to become full-time traveler too… just before the new passports. I’ll then wait until renewal. Otherwise I would have renewed it in advance.
Thanks for the info on the Canadian passports!
Hmmm. Microwaving your passport. That’s a new one for me. This info on the RFID chips is really enlightening. Our cats were chipped to immigrate to Europe, but I wasn’t aware some countries were also chipping passports. Interesting. I have noticed that some EU countries obtain all there is to know about a person (resident or non-resident) and most people, at least in the Netherlands, don’t seem to be bothered by it or see it as invasion of privacy. I imagine an easily scannable chips speeds things up just a bit when entering a new country…
Thanks for the info!
So far RFID hasn’t really sped up the process but actually slowed it down as passport control officers look at both the photo ID and the RFID chip information. Hopefully down the line however in many countries.
I don’t know what’s worse, these chips or the body scanners!
” For American citizens, there is no personal information stored on the RFID tag, simply a reference code to a file the government keeps on you and agents can access at passport control.”
I dont think that’s true unless US Government shares our date with “all other countries”, why? What happens when another country’s customer scans out US Passport? They must see something on their screen, right? Will guy see only the reference code to access US database or will it show our info such as name/last name/photo and etc?
I think this is the idea of having RFID chips to show your info in digital format, If US Passports dont store these data how come other countries custom see what’s in there?
The US may share the reference and database information with some nations; but most others will swipe the passport and scan the information page for their records. I would assume most RFID scans would only show the reference number.
I believe this article is mistaken about the content of the chip. The chip in a passport does have substantive data about the holder. The passport CARD, a different document used for travel in North America and the Carribean, has only a unique ID. That’s my recollection anyway…
Not according to security researchers and the official government documentation about the chips.
The reference to a govt database applies only to the passport card. The booklet stores more information. From the state dept passport FAQ:
The chip securely stores:
–The same information visually displayed on the photo page of the passport;
–A biometric identifier in the form of a digital image of the passport photograph, which will facilitate the use of facial recognition technology at ports-of-entry;
–The unique chip identification number; and
–A digital signature to protect the stored data from alteration.
Useful discussion , I was fascinated by the specifics ! Does anyone know if my assistant can acquire a blank PD F 1048 E version to complete ?