State to extend comment period on RFID in border cards

Following criticism that the technology compromises citizens' security, State opens the door to be swayed by public comment but official reiterates that passport cards will be highly secure.

In the light of new criticism of the State Department's plans to use RFID chips in passport cards, the department is extending the public comment period on the proposal until Jan. 7, Information Week reports. The Smart Card Alliance recently criticized the government's plans to use RFID in passport cards, which could be used in place of passports for travelers in and out of Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.

The Smart Card Alliance is urging the federal government to adopt the same microprocessor technology used in e-passports. The group argues that microprocessors allow for encryption, authentication, and other security enhancements, and that the radio frequency signals in passports have a shorter range and are therefore less vulnerable to interception.

Frank Moss, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs, said the government would issue RF-blocking sleeves to protect the cards and help secure people's information. He added that the cards will have strong security features.

"There will be all sorts of security features embedded in that card," he said. "It will be very difficult to reproduce except in a very sophisticated printing process. We're not talking about drivers' licenses."

Moss said that although inspectors will still physically check cars and identification, the passport cards would probably cut a few seconds out of inspections. In heavy border traffic, a few seconds for each vehicle can translate into hours of waiting time, he said. "For every second you add, when you multiply that by the number of people going across the border, you have enormous implications."