Cryptome has posted the State Department's final rules on the electronic passport, which will contain an RFID chip.
I reported elsewhere that these chips could turn American passports into a homing device for terrorists, kidnappers, and identity thieves. Fortunately, these problems seem to have been addressed. Unfortunately, other problems remain.
The new passports apparently can't be read from a distance of greater than ten centimeters. Of course, that's cold comfort to someone in a crowded bus or subway, so they've also incorporated a Faraday Cage in the cover:
[T]he Department, in cooperation with the GPO, will include an anti-skimming material in the front cover and spine of the electronic passport that will mitigate the threat of skimming from distances beyond the ten centimeters prescribed by the ISO 14443 technology, as long as the passport book is closed or nearly closed.There's also an access code that must be entered before the chip can be read. This sounds pretty good in theory, although serious doubts remain as to whether the encryption standard is sufficient. And the Electronic Freedom Foundation and other privacy activists have a host of additional legal and ethical objections, which go far beyond the relatively easy-to-solve problem of unauthorized reading.
Interestingly, the State Department document describes the complaints received from the public.
Specifically, concerns focused as follows: 2019 comments listed security and/or privacy; 171 listed general objections to use of the data chip and/or the use of RFID; 85 listed general objections to use of the electronic passport; 52 listed general technology concerns; and 8 listed religious concerns. Overall, approximately 1% of the comments were positive, 98.5% were negative, and .5% were neither negative nor positive.I'm flabbergasted to learn that in a country supposedly brimming over with addled fundamentalists who believe fervently in the "Mark of the Beast," only eight people were alarmed enough by this technology to complain to the State Department. Who could've predicted that the fundies would be so susceptible to the blandishments of the Antichrist? I previously suggested that RFID could be used as a wedge issue to sow discord between BushCo and its fundie enablers, but it looks as though I was too optimistic.
You can read all the comments here. Most are sensible; a few are entertainingly abusive and/or insane.