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by Mike Zazaian October 24, 2006 - 4:32pm, 1 Comment

The top of an RFID-enable passport

RFID-embedded passports issued by the Irish Government lack a basic security feature that could leave Irish citizens open to identity theft and unwanted recognition.

According to Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs a series of e-passports that will be issued to Irish citizens lack a basic security measure that prevents unauthorized skimmers from remotely obtaining passport information. While the RFID chips are meant to be read by customs equipment at only a few centimeters distance, third-party RFID equipment has shown the ability to read the chips from as far as 30 feet. Such findings led the US State Department to implement a wire-mesh in its own passport covers in order to make unauthorized reading of the passport very difficult from any appreciable distance as long as the passport is closed.

The Irish Government, however, failed to include any comparable mesh in a series of 750,000 RFID-enabled passports that will be issued to its citizens through 2007. Without such protection the Irish e-passports could be easily read by malicious third parties, potentially revealing the personal information and nationality of passport holders. Said Antoin O’Lachtnain, a director of Digital Rights Ireland (DRI):

Terrorists could use a scanner to identify a group of, say, British or American nationals by the passport they are carrying and then kidnap them or kill them in a suicide bombing.

Full diagram of an RFID-enable passport

While the instance pointed out by O’Lachtnain may be extreme, the point that unprotected passports could endanger Irish citizens has resounded throughout the country. Companies have already released mesh-protected passport holders for the passports. DRI has also offered an alternative for those who seek a low-cost, less conventional approach to RFID security. I really think e-passport holders should use a shield, such as a piece of tinfoil, to prevent the RFID chip being read without their knowledge, said O’Lachtnain.

Issuance of the new Irish RFID-enabled passports was prompted by a US initiative that requires all countries on its visa-waiver program to include radio frequency identification technology in new passports.

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