Industry questions U.S. RFID technology choice for new passport

Published 4 December 2006

Smart Card Alliance urges U.S. to reconsider selection of “vicinity” over “proximity” RFID technology for proposed passport card

On 17 October 2006 the U.S. Department of State published a Federal Register notice announcing the technology it has selected for the proposed new passport card it was planning for issung as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The notice stated that the proposed passport card would use “vicinity read” RFID technology which (please excuse the technical language here) conforms to ISO/IEC 18000-6, Type C, “Radio frequency identification for item management-Part 6,” rather than the ISO/IEC 14443-based “proximity read” secure contactless smart card technology which is being used for the new ePassports.

Now, the Smart Card Alliance is urging the U.S. government to reconsider the choice of vicinity-read cards over proximity-read cards, saying that “the vicinity read RFID technology proposed for the passport card is the wrong technology to implement a secure identification card.” Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance, said that members of the alliance wanted the State Department and DHS to “reconsider this decision in favor of more secure ‘proximity’ contactless smart card technology for the passport card.” The reason? Long-range, or vicinity, RFID tag technology is used typically to track products, while contactless smart card technology is already in place at the border to validate the identities of travelers with ePassports. “Contactless smart card technology has also been recommended by NIST for more than 10 million government employee and contractor identification cards that began to be issued last month,” Vanderhoof added.

Important industry players support the alliance’s position. “The U.S. government needs to focus on a policy for efficient border crossing that increases border security and citizen privacy,” said Neville Pattinson, director of technology and government affairs, Gemalto (and the co-chair of the Smart Card Alliance Identity Council): “The necessary technology is readily available to back up such a policy. Contactless smart card technology, compatible to that already being used globally in electronic passports, possesses all the security features necessary to protect citizen privacy, whilst upholding all operational parameters at the land border check points.”

Tres Wiley, director of eDocuments for Texas Instruments, a provider of both vicinity and proximity technologies, agrees: “We support the conclusions of the Smart Card Alliance. The vicinity technology being proposed by the U.S. government was not intended or designed for sensitive ID applications such as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passport card; secure proximity technology, like that in the new ePassport, was designed expressly for that purpose.”

-read more in this Alliance news release