As an extended security measure, the United States began issuing electronic passports to diplomats and other government workers in late 2005. These electronic passports contain a secure digital chip in the back cover that securely replicates the information printed on the inside of the document, including a digital photograph of the passport carrier.
Now, as a means of facilitating increased international travel through automatic identity verification, faster immigration inspections, and greater border protection and security, the U.S. has signed a multi-million unit deal with Infineon Technologies (News
) for the chip manufacturer’s highly secure integrated circuit technology to be put into U.S. tourist passports. By the end of this year, the government expects that all new US passports will be issued as electronic passports, with an estimated 15 million electronic passports to be issued during the first full year of the rollout. The electronic passport program in the U.S. is currently the largest of its kind in the world.
Each new passport will contain a chip protected by shielding material on the chip surface. The chips contains an encrypted copy of the printed information on the passport — including the bearer’s name, date of birth, validity period, as well as digital photo, which can be used along with facial recognition technology to quickly authenticate the passport holder’s identity.
To ensure the privacy of bearers, the new passports are equipped with basic access control, which necessitates running the passport over a scanner that reads the coded data, — over a distance of about four inches — and authorizes access to the data. In addition to shielding and BAC, there are more than 50 individual security mechanisms inside the Infineon chip to encrypt data and guarantee that personal data remains private. Security mechanisms on the Infineon chips also include sensors that help prevent unauthorized people from being able to access and read the data on the chip.
In addition to adopting electronic passports for American citizens, Congress also passed legislation whereby all countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program are required to issue passports with secure chip technology by October of this year.
“The United States is helping to set the pace for adoption of more secure travel documents around the world,” said Christopher Cook, Managing Director of Infineon Technologies North America Corp. “As a supplier of the specialized chips used for secure personal identification, financial transactions, and access to electronic systems, our chips have successfully passed some of the most stringent security tests in the world. We are very happy to be chosen to supply the electronics for the large-scale rollout of the U.S. electronic passport.”
Infineon supplies its secure identification chips to more than 20 countries that have adopted electronic passports technology or are at least testing it, including Germany, Hong Kong, Norway, and Sweden as well as the secure chips inside electronic identity documents used Italy, Finland, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Belgium, and Hong Kong. In the U.S., Infineon already manufactures secure chips for ID cards used by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Erik Linask is Associate Editor of INTERNET TELEPHONY Magazine. Most recently, he was Managing Editor at Global Custodian, an international securities services publication. To see more of his articles, please visit Erik Linask’s columnist page.