The US government has mandated that US passports will contain radio frequency identification (RFID) chips by the end of 2006.
According to the Department of
State website, the chip embedded in the cover of the new ePassports will contain the holder's name, birthdate, gender, birthplace, passport issuance and expiration dates, passport number,
and image of the holder. The claim is that the anti-skimming device and basic access control technology incorporated into the passport will prevent unauthorized access to the information encoded in the chip.
Schneier encourages his readers to renew their passport now to get a low-tech non-RFID-enabled version before they become unavailable. He points out that short-term attempts to crack or clone the RFID passports have had some success. While the State Department claims that the chips will only be readable from a few inches, what determines the distance is the power and sensitivity of the reader, and that the passports have been read at much longer distances. Schneier points out that the security measures in the passport (which Schneier deems inadequate) have to last for the life of the passport -- ten years.
Do you want to avoid the identity theft risks associated with having your passport information read illicitly? Don't get a passport. Need to travel outside the US? Too bad. Remember how citizens of Iron Curtain countries couldn't travel freely during the Cold War?