Jimmy Choos or Electronic Passport?

Tonight, at the Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok, (at the bar) I had the chance to overhear a fellow American talk to a gentleman of unknown origin. She regaled him with stories describing why Vegas is better than New York. She lives in an affluent Scottsdale neighborhood. She abhors Chicago, but Boston is ok. I meant to hear none of this, but she is one of “those” Americans. You know, one of the ones that speak too loudly about things they know nothing about. And, I could not help but listen. I listened as she talked about the necessity of a “pass” to scoot through security. She said she would gladly give her personal 411 to not have to take off her shoes at the airport. I am sure she pre-ordered her national ID card.

The last words were actually written at the end of November. My family went to Thailand for the Thanksgiving holiday seeking sun, shopping and adventure. I wrote those words a little tipsy- the Peninsula had offered free mini bar service in the room and if you know me at all, you know that they are surely rethinking that “special package” today. Thailand was the last place I used my almost expired passport. I renewed my passport last week- a bit early because of visa requirements for my next destination- and was shocked to see what I had to agree to for permission to travel. The application had a whole section describing how an applicant’s personal information could be used and shared.

PURPOSE: The primary purpose for soliciting the information is to establish citizenship, identity, and entitlement to
issuance of a U.S. passport.
ROUTINE USES: The information solicited on this form may be made available as a routine use to other government agencies to assist the U.S. Department of State in adjudicating passport applications and requests for related services, and for law enforcement and administration purposes. The information may be made available to foreign government agencies to fulfill passport control and immigration duties. The information may also be provided to foreign government agencies, international organizations and, in limited cases, private persons and organizations to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise address potential violations of law or to further the Secretary’s responsibility for the protection of U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals abroad. The information may be made available to private U.S. citizen ‘wardens’ designated by the U.S. embassies and consulates. For a more detailed listing of the routine uses to which this information may be put, see the Prefatory Statement of Routine Uses and the listing of routine users set forth in the system descriptions for Overseas Citizen Services Records (State-05) and Passport Records (State-26) published in the Federal Register.
CONSEQUENCES OF FAILURE TO PROVIDE INFORMATION: With the exception of your Social Security Number (see Federal Tax Law statement on Instruction Page 3), you are not legally required to provide the information requested on this form. However, failure to do so may result in Passport Services’ refusal to accept your application or result in the denial of a U.S. passport.

In today’s climate, I wonder how they will “limit” private persons and organizations from my personal information. If I go back to Amsterdam and visit a coffee shop, will my local police know it? Perhaps I am being hypersensitive. Maybe all that was included on the last passport application I signed. But I was 23 then and did not give a shit enough to read the fine print. But there is one thing on this passport application that I am sure was not ten years ago- notification of an electronic chip to be placed in the passport.

The U.S. Department of State will begin issuing a new type of passport containing an embedded electronic chip and called an “Electronic Passport”. The new passport will continue to be proof of the bearer’s United States citizenship and identity, and will look and function in the same way as a passport without a chip. The addition of an electronic chip in the back cover will enable the new passport to carry a duplicate electronic copy of all information from the data page. The new passport will be usable at all ports-of-entry, including those that do not yet have electronic chip readers.
Use of the electronic format will provide the traveler the additional security protections inherent in chip technology. Moreover, when used at ports-of-entry equipped with electronic chip readers, the new passport will provide for faster clearance through some of the port-of-entry processes.
Issuance of this new passport will be phased in during an 18-month period. It is expected that by late 2006 nearly all U.S. passports will be issued in this new format. The new passport will not require special handling or treatment, but like previous versions should be protected from extreme bending and from immersion in water. The electronic chip must be read using specially formatted readers, and is not susceptible to unauthorized reading. The cover of the new passport will be printed with a special symbol representing the embedded chip. The symbol will appear in port-of-entry areas where the electronic passport can be read.

I am not anyone who would be mistaken as an electronics whiz. I still don’t know how to upload a photo for this blog. But I am smart enough to know that I laughed too soon at that loud woman in Bangkok. It seems that I may be getting a version of the national ID card before her. As a woman, I usually like having something first. A new Louis handbag, an Hermes scarf, or the latest Jimmy Choo shoes are fun for women. You show your friends and strike deals regarding future trades. My new electronic, “limited case” file sharing passport is not something I am proud of, even if expedited service cost as much as Jimmy Choo pumps during an end of season sale.

  1. Nothing scarier than knowing that the walls could be telling all sorts of people where you – or at least your passport – is. Normally walls strike me as fairly trustworthy.

  2. Walls trustworthy? Not anymore my friend. /2006/01/06/technology-is-killing-the-fourth-amendment/ ;o)

  3. I’ll have to get a passport sometime soon… you can bet that sucker’s getting immersed in all manner of water.

  4. My original passport was delivered the day after I needed it. I was going to Costa Rica at the time and could go on a birth certificate. (Can’t visit Canada that way now) My passport was warped by rain under a doormat. I got funny looks in 20 countries and only the edge was f’d. So, Stuart, water will not help you. You will only have frayed edges and a raised eye brow coming home. Smooches love!

  5. Blah… well then, I’ll have to figure out some other way to disable said chip.

    And what were you doing in Costa Rica? Anything to do with the Movimiento Libertario?

  6. I wish it were something as noble. The 1st time was for salsa dancing with a romantic interest and the 2nd was to zip line through the rainforest and goof off. I must admit, that it was the romantic interest that ignited my passion for travel. My husband has benefited and has since learned to travel, but my salsa skills have suffered.

  7. Nope, water and magnets won’t do anything. About 5 seconds in the microwave, however, will kill it. :)

  8. Some additional info from the U.S. State Department on the e-Passport, my emphasis added:

    The inclusion of the digital photograph will enable biometric comparison, through the use of facial recognition technology at international borders.

    Yet another database…

    Michael Hampton says:
    Nope, water and magnets won’t do anything. About 5 seconds in the microwave, however, will kill it. :)

    So, what happens when your travels are halted because of an invalid passport? I’m sure there will be a law stating that a faulty chip will void the passport, otherwise why even phase them in? What would stop EVERYONE from zapping their documents?

  9. Also, unfortunately, you can claim you “accidentally” left your passport in water or in a highly magnetized area. You can’t accidentally microwave your passport, unless you frequently microwave your pants or something.

  10. Umm, like I was having a slumber party, and my friends, instead of, you know, freezing my bra, like nuked my passport.

  11. But officer! My passport was in my luggage when airport security put it through the x-ray machine and now the chip won’t work! :(

  12. Ok, you guys are clearly ahead of me with the microwave trick. This is probably why the crazy ones in Congress will be foaming at the mouth to implant them at some point.

  13. Hm, then we’ll have to microwave Congress to get rid of their implants. That might take longer than 5 seconds, though… :)

  14. My understanding of the undrlying electronics is that a chip of the size that would fit into a passport does not have any power source of its own, but would provide a small resonant signal back to some sort of scanning device.

    Again, because of the size, this signal couldn’t travel very far, probably no more than a couple of meters. There’s better sources for that info, but I’m going off my memory of early discussions on other lists about RFIDs.

    Yours truly,

    …rocking the old passport until 2009…

  15. The fear expressed in these comments is quite exaggerated…

    1. Yes, the chip has no power source of its own, therefore you have to be close, really, really close to be able to “activate” it, say within a few inches.

    2. The new passport’s front and back cover is shielded, i.e. it has a tiny metallic wire mesh (a “faraday cage”), which makes it all but impossible to read the chip when the passport is closed, even if you are really close to the passport.

    3. Even if you could somehow get within a few inches of the passport and establish radio contact with the chip past the cover’s sheilding when the passport is closed, you still wouldn’t be able to actually decipher the contents of the chip since it is encrypted and only by opening the passport and visually reading off a key from the first page of the passport can the contents be on the chip be deciphered.