The United States seeks to improve homeland security by mandating the distribution of biometric passports equipped with digital photos, digitized fingerprints, and iris scans, but concerns about privacy infringement, reliability and interoperability issues, and a rushed implementation raise serious doubts about the technology’s effectiveness.
The computer chips the passports are to be outfitted with are intentionally designed for remote readability, and the data on the passports will be deliberately unencrypted. The first measure leaves the passport bearer unaware that he or she is under surveillance, while the second means that anyone with a suitable reader–including identity thieves and terrorists–can access passport information.
Addressing the second problem, ironically enough, would cancel out the passport’s remote readability. Possible solutions include enclosing the passport chip within a Faraday cage, or locking the chip electronically.
The interoperability of biometric passport technology is also questionable, as each country will choose its own chip manufacturers, while the common standard the passports will be designed to is cloudy. Reliability is an additional concern, as the significant error rates of facial-, fingerprint-, and iris-recognition technology raise the risk of false positives at border crossings and other points of entry.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the Economist (02/19/05) Vol. 374, No. 8414, P. 75 .