Travel gear for the 21st century

The decision to manufacture all new U.S. passports with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips so border guards can scan passport information has some travelers looking for cover — literally.

When the Government Printing Office announced last month that it had printed its 5 millionth e-Passport, some loud cheers came from the companies that make passport covers that block RFID signals. 

The market for those transmission-blocking sleeves is based on fears that the information stored on ID chips in new U.S. passports can be intercepted by using RFID-ready technology. There have been several published reports of computer experts successfully breaking though the security protections that other countries have used to protect some versions of their RFID passports. A company named DIFRwear — RFID spelled backward — has sold about 10,000 covers since it started production just over a year ago.

Paraben, a leading manufacturer of the sleeves, said it has sold passport covers to some U.S. government agencies.

However, Ben Brink, head of GPO’s Security and Intelligent Document Unit, said he wouldn’t advise rushing out to buy a protective sleeve. Brink said that, unlike other countries’ versions, the new U.S. e-Passports feature technology similar to that of a protective sleeve in their covers that blocks RFID transmission when the passport is closed. Brink added that the only reason he would buy one of the covers is because he liked the way it looked.


About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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