Passport to privacy problems?

Business-travel groups and some security experts have raised a red flag over the United States' plans to include a contactless (read: wireless) chip in next-generation passports.

The worry is that the chip, designed to be readable at a range of four inches, could be scanned by high-tech equipment from much further away, enabling terrorists and criminals to target Americans abroad. The chip on the passport will contain all the information normally displayed on the first page of the passport, including a digital photograph of the holder. The data--once written--cannot be changed.

Many of the concerns are fueled by a Web site created by Bill Scannell, a civil-rights advocate with a penchant for provocative claims. The latest, RFID Kills, calls the U.S. program "Death by Passport."

However, there is at least one simple defense against remote chip readers: Carry passports in a wallet or holder that has shielding against electromagnetic radiation. Such shielding would protect against remote reading until the person removed the passport from the holder. Of course, at that point, anyone could figure out the person's nationality by the cover of the passport.

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