Homeland Security launches e-passport contactless chip pilot

Live testing of passports containing radio-frequency identification contactless chips began this week at San Francisco International Airport for selected incoming visitors from Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

The three-month collaborative pilot project sponsored by the Homeland Security Department and the three countries is intended to gauge the effectiveness of the RFID e-passports, which contain biometric information, along with RFID readers and software. The e-passports are being issued to Australian and New Zealand citizens, Singapore Airlines crew members and some U.S. officials.

"This test provides an important opportunity to work with our international partners to further the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to put in place an e-Passport reader solution by the fall of this year," Jim Williams, director of U.S. Visit, which screens foreign visitors, said in a news release.

The passports hold biographic information and a digital photograph embedded in a contactless chip. The chip communicates by radio wave with a reader, which enables the information to be scanned without direct contact. The e-passports have a security feature called Basic Access Control to help prevent unauthorized reading.

The e-passports previously were tested at Los Angeles International Airport and Sydney Airport.

Starting in October, the State Department has announced all new U.S. passports will contain contactless chips. To address privacy and security concerns, the chips will have a shield that prevents them from being read when the passport is closed.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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