Protect passport chips

If you throw your biometric passport in the wash with your dirty clothes and end up with a damaged electronic chip, the State Department says you have to get a new one.

A proposed rule published today in the Federal Register outlines new passport regulations to deal with damaged biometrics when the federal government begins phasing in electronic passports later this year.

The electronic chips, which contain information about the passport holder and a biometric identifier, are becoming such an important part of the document that damaged chips will not be acceptable, according to the notice.

"A passport that contains a damaged, defective or otherwise nonfunctioning electronic chip or with observable wear and tear that render it unfit for further use as a travel document may be invalidated by the Department of State," the notice states.

Under limited circumstances, the notice states, individuals can receive free replacement passports if an electronic chip fails or if a person has changed his or her name or other personal identifying information within a year of the date of the passport's original issue.

By 2006, the State Department will be issuing electronic documents. The older paper passports — without a chip — will be accepted until they expire.

"The State Department considers the inclusion of biometric identifiers in international travel documents made possible by electronic chip technology to be a critical step in upgrading border security for the United States," according to the notice.

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