Smart passports roll out

Despite privacy concerns, terror security delays, 'smartports' are ready to go, State says.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Ready for smart passports? The State Department started issuing passports with "smart" chips embedded in them, AP reported.

The new U.S. passports will include a chip that contains all the data contained in the paper version -- name, birthdate, gender, for example -- and can be read by electronic scanners at equipped airports. The State Department says they will speed up going through customs and help enhance border security.

All good in theory. The reality of having TSA workers trained on the new technology, the scanners operating properly and how to handle red flags are sure to add delays to the already terror-stressed airport security. And then there's the security concerns.

A major concern is that hackers could pick up the electronic signal when the passport is being scanned, said Sherwin Siy, staff counsel at the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, a leading privacy group.

``Many of the advantages the industry is touting are eliminated by security concerns,'' Siy said.

The State Dept. has been testing "smartports" for over a year and says they are safe and effective.

Citizens who get new passports can expect to pay a lot more. New ones issued under this program will cost $97, which includes a $12 security surcharge added last year. Not all new passports will contain the technology until it's fully rolled out -- a process expected to take a year. Existing passports without the electronic chips will remain valid until their normal expiration date.
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