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December 4, 2006

Smart Card Alliance slams RFID use in US passport card program

The Smart Card Alliance is urging the US government to reconsider using long-range RFID technology in implementing its passport card program.

By CBR Staff Writer

The passport card has been proposed as an identification card for US citizens without passports to verify their identity at land and sea border crossings.

The Smart Card Alliance believes that vicinity-read RFID technology proposed for the passport card is the wrong technology to implement a secure identification card. It is suggesting an alternative in the form of ‘proximity’ contacless smart card technology.

According to the alliance, long-range tag RFID is used typically to track products, while contactless smart card technology is already in place at the border to validate the identities of travelers with ePassports. Contactless smart card technology has also been recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for more than 10 million government employee and contractor identification cards that began to be issued in November.

The alliance provided details of its concerns with the passport card decision to use vicinity-read RFID technology, and gave recommendations for measures that the US Department of Homeland Security and Department of State could implement to improve the passport card program.

The issues with the proposal detailed in the response include: lack of security safeguards in long-range RFID technology; potential for tracking and citizen distrust; and duplication of required border infrastructure to accept this identity document technology in addition to ePassports and potential operational issues with multiple vicinity-read RFID tags in vehicles.

The US government needs to focus on a policy for efficient border crossing that increases border security and citizen privacy, said Neville Pattinson, director of technology and government affairs at Gemalto and the co-chair of the Smart Card Alliance Identity Council. The necessary technology is readily available to back up such a policy. Contactless smart card technology, compatible to that already being used globally in electronic passports, possesses all the security features necessary to protect citizen privacy, whilst upholding all operational parameters at the land border check points.

The alliance states that there are many advantages to using contactless smart card technology for the passport card program, including the ability to support electronic verification of authenticity to prevent counterfeiting and to use secure, encrypted communications to thwart eavesdropping and replay attacks, and ensure privacy protection for cardholders.

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