RFID scanners to boast 30-foot efficiency

The embattled RFID has received a nod from the Department of Homeland Security.

In a recent address to a smart card conference, DHS Director Jim Williams predicted that the little tracking chips would be embedded in many government-issued travel documents by 2008. Williams further said that the chips could be scanned by dedicated reading devices at distances of up to 30 feet.

That kind of distance would certainly make it easier and less time-consuming for travelers to go from country to country. But it also raises security fears, with RFID opponents shouting about the likelihood of identity thieves having their own RFID scanners and seizing sensitive information from afar. Government officials respond to those claims by pointing to stipulations that the RFID chips will contain nothing but a 96-digit number that will be compared to what is stored in federal databases and that hackers would have to break into not the flimsy chip but the database itself. Other security measures include anti-scanning technology built in to the cover of the passports.

The cards that Williams is referring to will be called People Access Security Service (PASS) cards. They are part of a federal law that will take effect on January 1, 2008 and will require anyone coming to the U.S. from Mexico or Canada to have a passport or some sort of “alternate” document—like a PASS card.

Like it or not, RFID is coming. It is already in use in a handful of countries around the world and will be standard issue in the U.S. beginning this October. How much security will be needed remains to be seen.


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