Smart passport field narrows to four

Four companies have been tapped by the State Department to provide smart chips, antennas, software and any gear necessary to embed biometric information within the covers of U.S. passports.

Chosen for this test phase of the department's biometric passport program are SuperCom Ltd. of New York and Raanana, Israel, BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., Axalto of Amsterdam, and Infinion AG of Munich

"We are still looking at pilot production starting at the end of this year," said Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary for passport services. The State Department's schedule calls for the agency to begin providing biometric passports to tourists in February.

The department received more than a dozen proposals for the work. Each of the four companies will receive payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for their participation in the tests, Moss said.

"We are looking at different types of antennas and different substrates," he said. "The chip is only part of it. We are looking at chip durability and chip reliability, and the ability to integrate the products into passport covers."

The agency eventually may choose one or two suppliers for the job, Moss said.

The department now produces about 7 million passports annually. When State rolls out its biometric passport capability, it plans to charge applicants a $10 fee to pay for the biometric feature of the document.

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