Passport privacy questioned

In their latest salvo against the way Bush administration officials want to use technology to track travelers, American Civil Liberties Union officials are accusing them of disregarding privacy and security warnings about remotely readable biometric passports.

ACLU officials say that State Department documents show that e-passports would broadcast personal information via radio frequency identification (RFID) chips to anyone within 30 feet who has an RFID reader. The State reports include warnings from experts about the passports' vulnerabilities, union officials say.

"Someone with one of those readers could pick up all the information in the area," ACLU spokesperson Will Potter said. "It's becoming the Holy Grail of an identity thief." He added that precautions such as covering passports with foil are "pretty laughable" considering everything that is at stake.

Four teams will provide computer chips for testing electronic passports, Government Printing Office officials said earlier this fall.

They announced contracts last week for Axalto, which received two awards worth $107,770 each; Infineon Technologies, which will get $108,317; a team of BearingPoint and SuperCom, which will receive $82,823; and SuperCom, which received a separate deal for $73,787. Although State officials are leading the electronic passport effort, GPO officials design and make the physical passports.

GPO officials may evaluate passport covers that contain an integrated circuit and antenna, although National Institute of Standards and Technology officials will do much of the testing. Company officials will provide GPO with samples of the passport electronics, readers and software.

One of the four teams will be chosen to produce those items after the testing is finished, GPO officials said.

Critics at the ACLU and other advocacy groups have repeatedly accused administration officials of ignoring privacy concerns. Bush officials have said their biometric programs are being developed with privacy protections.

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