ePassports and Biometrics

What are ePassports?

E-Passports look like traditional passports with the exception that they contain an RFID chip which contains data about the passport holder, including name, date of birth, address, etc .The chip can be read, at close range by scanners, which collects this information.

E-passports allow the records of who is going in and out of country to be handled more quickly and efficiently. i.e the customs/immigration officers don’t need to write or type who is coming into the country, but rather just scan the passport. In addition to this chips can be used to contain more data – biometrics. Iris Scans, fingerprints, etc.

Despite the apparent benefits of the ePassports groups of people have complained about them. In 2005, a private individual developed a system to read, and clone the chips – therefore removing any argument of increased security of the passport. Reading and cloning the RFID chip is made possible by the lack of encryption on the data. The lack of security on the ePassport that the RFID chip also posed an issue for groups like the ” Future of Identity in the Information Society” – FIDIS – which is funded by the EU. This was reportedby the BBC.

Even though the issues with the first generation security have not been resolved the UK government is pushing on with the 2nd generation epassports.

The “second generation” ePassports contain not only the the personal data that the first generation do, but also biometric information, e.g Iris scans, fingerprints, etc. The UK government gives a variety of reasons for introducing biometrics, most prominently “[To] ensure British Citizens can continue to benefit from visa-free travel to the USA”.

In short the UK’s passports design, security, and data collection, is being dictated by a foreign country.

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