U.S. taps Entrust for e-passports

Company will supply key component to authenticate the ID chips planned for the next-generation documents, which have raised privacy fears.

Alorie Gilbert
Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
2 min read
The U.S. State Department is assembling the technology for the new e-passport, selecting tools from Entrust to help ensure the authenticity of the next-generation document.

The contract, which Entrust announced on Wednesday, calls on the Dallas company to supply a key component in a government plan to introduce new U.S. passports this year. The passports will contain an identification chip, and the State Department will use Entrust software to stamp each ID chip with a tamper-proof digital code, or digital signature, the company said.

"The process and technologies enabled by this system can help enhance the nation's homeland security and serve as the foundation for more secure and efficient management of international travel and identification," Entrust said in a statement.

An Entrust executive declined to disclose the value of the contract and the names of rivals that competed for it. The company's stock gained 31 cents, or 8 percent, on Wednesday's news.

The State Department plans to begin issuing e-passports later this year, starting with federal government employees. The high-tech documents are designed to deter passport forgery and theft. The chips embedded in them store information about the document holder, including name, date of birth, place of birth and digital photos, which promise to give immigration officials a quick way to verify a passport's legitimacy.

Some privacy groups oppose the introduction of e-passports because the chips wirelessly transmit personal information to special receivers via radio signal. They fear anyone with the right equipment could scan a crowd for Americans, making them targets for attack or surveillance.

The privacy concerns have not deterred the government from pursuing its e-passport project, one of the many efforts it launched to bolster national security after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The State Department said last year that it plans to produce more than 1 million e-passports this year and issue them initially to citizens through the Los Angeles Passport Agency.

In related news, Congress recently passed a law requiring citizens and residents to obtain a federally approved ID card with "machine readable technology" to travel by air or rail, to open a bank account or enter federal building. The law is expected to take effect by May 2008.