Infineon Announces Deal for U.S. Passport RFID Chips

The company says there is enough security packed in its chip to ward off nefarious attacks, a major concern among U.S. citizens.

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A German company, Infineon Technologies, announced that it is working with the U.S. government in its quest to RFID-enable all U.S. passports by the end of 2006.

Infineon officials said Aug. 28 that the company received a multi-million piece purchase order from the U.S. government to supply the integrated circuit technology for the electronic passport.

The State Department began issuing RFID-chipped passports on Aug. 14 at a Colorado passport agency. It plans to extend that out to some of the 7,000-plus public government offices designated to accept passport applications over the next few months, according to the State Departments Web site.

By years end the government expects that all U.S passports will embedded with an RFID chip.

The U.S. Electronic Passport—consistent with global specifications adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization—will have Infineons "secure contactless micro controller" embedded in the back cover of the passport.

The chip contains the same information found on a passport—name, date of birth, gender, place of birth, date of passport issuance, passport number and expiration date.

The passport itself will also include a digital image of the bearers photograph, and enough memory space on the RFID chip to include further biometrics down the road.

Infineon is itself no stranger to RFID chipping passports. It supplies its chips to more than 20 countries that have begun to either use or test electronic passports, including Germany, Hong Kong, Norway and Sweden.

It also works with Italy, Finland, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Belgium and Hong Kong, providing chips that are embedded in electronic identity documents.

"The United States is helping to set the pace for adoption of more secure travel documents around the world," said Christopher Cook, managing director of Infineon Technologies North America, in a statement.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRFID standard passes testing by IBM, T3Ci. Click here to read more.

"As the leading supplier of the specialized chips used for secure personal identification, financial transactions and access to electronic systems, our chips have successfully passed some of the most stringent security tests in the world."

There is, however, an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens who are opposed to RFID-enabling passports. During a public input period last year, 98.5 percent of respondents opposed the idea of electronic passports. Of 2,335 comments received on the introduction to electronic passports, 2,019 residents listed security and privacy as their top concern.

At the same time, there have been persistent outcries from privacy and security advocates regarding the use of RFID technology in passports.

In response, the State Department has increased the security technology for the electronic passports, adding both shielding and access control measures.

The Infineon chip itself has over 50 individual security mechanisms built into the chip, including data encryption technology and protective shielding on the surface of the chip, company officials said.

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