The U.S. Government, in its interest in increased security is implementing E-Passports, passports with an embedded RFID chip that can contain all of the previously recorded passport information as well as various biometric information about the authorized bearer of the document. They tout its security benefits and convenience benefits to citizens. Critics warn that the information contained on the chip is not secure and could be snooped on by unauthorized persons without the bearer ever knowing.
RFID technology has been under fire since it first became known that not only could the chips in many cases be read by persons other than the ones intended to, the basic safety feature of a minimal transmission range was easily defeated by critics who demonstrated transmission ranges orders of magnitude farther than intended. It is also possible in some cases for the information to be modified be an unauthorized person if the organization implementing the chips does not take proper precautions. It must be understood however that the chips being fielded in the E-Passports are not the basic chips one might find in the items on a Wal-Mart shelf. In addition to the chip itself being secure and encrypted with a public key system, the data on the chip is digitally signed. The snooping from afar is also easily defeated by encasing the chip in a radio-wave defeating case, such as the inlays being used in the jacket of the new E-Passport. The chip is then only vulnerable when exposed.
Privacy advocates dislike the idea of having their information at risk, and dispute the need for the chip to contain biometric information. The government's position is that the information is needed, both to comply with other members of the new program, and also to allow for accurate facial recognition which has had both notable successes and failures in its use in security thus far.
One oft-suggested alternative to the RFID chip that still allows for the digital storage of biometric information is a contact or optical chip that would require either physical contact between the chip and the reader, or a direct line of sight laser onto the chip in order to read the information. The obvious problem with either of these technologies is lifetime, as the passport currently is good for ten years from its issue, and experts doubt the ability of these alternatives not to degrade to the point of non-function.
The cost of the new passports is more expensive obviously and that cost will be passed on the the bearers, with a ten dollar increase to the normally eighty-five dollars in fees for a new passport issue.