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Disabling the RFID in the New U.S. Passports 294

Posted by Zonk
from the very-high-tech dept.
slashchuck writes "Along with the usual Jargonwatch and Wired/Tired articles, the January issue of Wired offers a drastic method for taking care of that RFID chip in your passport. They say it's legal ... if a bit blunt. From the article: 'The best approach? Hammer time. Hitting the chip with a blunt, hard object should disable it. A nonworking RFID doesn't invalidate the passport, so you can still use it.' "
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Disabling the RFID in the New U.S. Passports?

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  • No Hurry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JusticeISaid (946884) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:25AM (#17366786)
    Great idea! Anything else I can do to slow down my passage through Immigration and Customs after a long flight? I'm always looking for ideas.
  • Great idea! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tulmad (25666) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:28AM (#17366826)
    That's great until they make it a requirement to have working RFID to go through customs.
  • by torstenvl (769732) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:30AM (#17366868)
    FTFA: "But be careful - tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison."

    Also, only TFA works. The other links are bogus.
  • by paladinwannabe2 (889776) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:32AM (#17366890)
    That broadcasts your information. This makes it so much easier to stalk people you've just met! Of course, if I was a criminal I'd just use this to make a list of people going on a nice long overseas flight... plenty of time to stop by their house and help myself to a few things.
  • Freedom vs. Safety (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TrisexualPuppy (976893) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:35AM (#17366916)
    Great idea! Anything else I can do to slow down my passage through Immigration and Customs after a long flight? I'm always looking for ideas.
    Hey, actually, it is a great idea. If you're the kind of person who likes to protect his rights and privacy, this is an excellent way to go. Not only do you get to destroy the RFID, but you can still use the passports that are being released from here on out and are the only way to get in or out of the country. This means that we have an option to keep passports as they used to be, a little less like cattle ear tags.

    For me, cue the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture final movement. Cannons sounding in the background, I'll be smashing my RFID with a 12-pound copper mallet the next time that I have to renew.
  • Taking bets... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:47AM (#17366998) Homepage
    How long until they make hammer possession a felony?
  • Re:No Hurry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:47AM (#17367002) Journal
    Yeah, because stopping you, scanning your passport, then letting you on through was SO much faster than stopping you, sliding your passport through a stripe reader, and letting you through.
  • No thanks. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by webdog314 (960286) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @12:02PM (#17367172)
    And who is more likely to get that random cavity search, the touring Swiss couple who don't give a damn about their privacy risk, or the scruffy looking nerd who's passport just happens to have a non-functional RFID chip?
  • Re:Great idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JFitzsimmons (764599) <justin@fitzsimmons.ca> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @12:23PM (#17367400)

    The goal of adding RFID to a passport was to add another layer of security to the passport. This may sound a little strange at first, but there is some logic to it. The RFID chip contains the same information as the printed passport, including a digitized version of the picture, AND a cryptographic hash. The desired outcome is that it is difficult to forge BOTH parts of the passport simultaneously. Ideally, the person would only be able to pass if both portions of their passport matched and the hash was valid. Although it may be a result, being able to just wave people on through after scanning the RFID portion of the passport was not a goal.

    Practically, since passports are still valid without RFID, this measure is almost useless, and opens up tons of privacy problems as already stated. I don't think that ranged communication should have been a major feature of a passport, which makes me wonder why the government chose RFID over any other tagging technology, such as smartcards. Smartcards could perform the same or perhaps even better task as the RFID tags currently are, except they would be more secure simply by the virtue that they require physical contact with the reader.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @12:51PM (#17367702)
    I would think that...

    Never, ever, use that phrase when discussing the law, or legal issues. The law != common sense. Common sense != the law.

  • ... hasn't given a damn about the constitution ... For some things [the Courts] already do have the power...

    You, ah, ARE aware that the Constitution sets up three branches of government, and explicitly grants the Courts a rough third of aggregate power, right?

    And since they're the only branch that has no say in amending the Constitution, letting them be the ones that determine what the words mean sounds reasonably fair. (Where's the "States may outlaw abortion" amendment, anyway?)

    FWIW, it is disturbing that our current administration seems reluctant to abide by Checks and Balances. But that's why we live in a democracy; when the administration no longer suits us, we can remove them from power without killing anybody.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @01:30PM (#17368072) Homepage
    Which is likely to cause you more trouble? Homeland Security being identify me wirelessly at a distance to they can yell at you "6079 Smith W. Yes, you! Bend lower, please!"

    Or that Homeland Security can identify you as someone who has exhibited an unusual pattern of behavior by sabotaging my own passport, for reasons which they will not be interested in trying to understand?

    Telling them that "An article in Wired says a nonworking RFID doesn't invalidate the passport, so I can still use it" is likely to be about as effective as John Gilmore saying that since nobody can show him a copy of any law [postgazette.com] that says he needs to show ID when flying, he should be able to fly without showing ID.
  • Re:No Hurry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rlp (11898) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @02:00PM (#17368404)
    It has already been demonstrated that the faraday cage effect of the shielding is negated if the passport is only open a centimeter or so, as could easily happen with a passport carried in a handbag, or pretty much anywhere there is not much pressure to hold it closed.

    Or you could put a rubber band around the passport to keep it closed.
  • Re:No Hurry (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @02:08PM (#17368468)
    Or you could put a rubber band around the passport to keep it closed.

    Yeah. Somehow, I don't expect to see THAT in the instructions from the State Department anytime soon. That's the kind of thing that gets noticed, it would end up in Leno's monologue, maybe even a skit or two on SNL.

    The whole point of putting shielding in was that the average joe traveler would not need to worry about band-aid security because the people whose damn job it was to get it right did so.
  • Re:Great idea! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @02:12PM (#17368494)
    ... which makes me wonder why the government chose RFID over any other tagging technology ...

    Well, much has been made over the potential for these passports to be read by bad guys for some distance. It occurs to me that our government (and others) might like to have that same ability. It sure would be convenient for the cops if they could just stop anyone that they can't "ping". It would be a variation on usual "papers, please!" but no less invasive from a privacy perspective. Readers could be installed at any place where people have to pass (bus terminal, subway station, bank, restaurant, you-name-it.)

    If law enforcement is looking for an individual they suspect is in a particular area, they could just dot the region with portable scanners. Heck, England will probably incorporate the technology into some future generation of their cameras. They already have speakers, why not an RFID reader? This would certainly make catching terrorists even more straightforward, it being common knowledge that terrorists can never obtain legitimate documentation while in a foreign country.

    I understand that the current generation of RFID passport is being supplied with shielded covers to avoid remote polling, but that was only after enough people complained about it. It wasn't a concern until then, and the State Department was perfectly happy to dump them on us anyway, regardless of the risks.

    Besides, this is just a pilot program, using the cover of anti-terrorism to get a bunch of people to walk around with RFID tags. If the technology works as well as they hope and expect, you can bet your bottom dollar that our up-and-coming RealID cards will incorporate RFID tags as well. It's just too tempting, and since that's something that everyone will be required to carry with them at all times (or, if not required, then strongly encouraged) we'll be even easier to track.
  • Re:No Hurry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iron-kurton (891451) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @02:19PM (#17368556)
    Here's an idea: not giving up your civil liberties for the sake of convenience and national security (to be distinguished from ACTUAL security). What's really funny about your statement is that 5 years ago, people like you were in front of news cameras at the airline check-in saying "we don't mind waiting in line if it makes us more secure." Now, 5 years later, even after we have all established that airport security is a joke, instead of coming up with a more efficient screening method, we spent our resources developing YET another new technology full of holes.

    My point is, your anger at the poster and the method of destroying the chips is a bit misdirected -- if you really want to spend less time at security checkpoints and Immigration and Customs, you should lobby for improving the methods currently in place. Besides, like someone who replied to your post already said, there really is no speed improvement in putting your passport through a barcode reader or waving it in front of an RFID reader. However, there is a relative security difference, and given the choice, I would take the former.
  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @02:51PM (#17368854)
    Oh, I know, and it's absolutely something that the Feds aren't going to want you to do so it doesn't really matter what the definition is ... you can bet it's illegal to smash the chip. And if it isn't, it's just an oversight that will get corrected, particularly if chip-smashing becomes popular enough.
  • Re:microwave it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @03:18PM (#17369076)
    I have $66,000 on me ... they COULD read the amount of currency in his pocket at a distance

    He's going through customs. With over $60k in cash. I guarantee it was not in his pockets. Further, if you've ever been put into the "special" line crossing the border, you know that they'll probably ask you to empty your pockets, too. Especially when your baggage has tens of thousands of cash in it.

    They didn't need to read it at a distance, they freakin' looked at it.
  • Re:No Hurry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BigCheese (47608) <dennis.hostetler@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @04:26PM (#17369718) Homepage Journal
    But if the encryption key is printed in some machine read format, why not just print the data that way in the first place and skip the RFID step?
    So some government contractor can make giant piles of money. Why else?
  • Re:No Hurry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:37PM (#17371622)
    Or just put it in your pocket; seems to do a good job of keeping my wallet closed.

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