Other campus: Easy with the computers – The Daily Texan Editorial

By Daily Texan

(U-WIRE) AUSTIN, Texas – In the futuristic movie “Gattaca,” U.S. citizens were tracked via fingerprint and iris scans to verify identification. We’re no longer in 1997; this is the future, and it appears the film’s projections weren’t that far off base.

A rule published by the Bush administration in the Federal Register on Feb. 18, allows for the incorporation of electronic chips into passports to monitor international travel.

The radio frequency ID (RFID) chips will enable airport security officials to access sensitive identification information, including a digitized photograph and the nationality of the holder, simply by running a scanner over the face of the passport.

But border security officials aren’t the only ones able to access the information from afar, posing a significant opportunity for anyone with a handheld scanning device.

The information to be encoded in the chip currently does not contain Social Security numbers or home addresses, but the government is considering adding fingerprint and iris scans to the documents at a later date, which would aid identity thieves.

Concerned citizens have also raised the issue of terrorist attacks resulting from the chips. They claim that having the nationality of the citizen encoded in the chip could provoke more attacks outside of U.S. borders, as terrorists would be able to easily verify a person’s citizenship via the encryption.

While the need for increased security is certainly justified, the U.S. State Department shouldn’t let haste overshadow privacy concerns.

The Bush administration said it has addressed the issue of unauthorized access by installing antiscanning material into the front cover of the passports. While tests have found this measure to be somewhat effective while the document is closed, there is no protection in place for instances in which the passport is open. Additionally, high-powered scanners with the capability of reading the information for up to 160 feet away have not been thoroughly tested against the deterrent.

It is important to note that the measure has not been implemented recklessly; the initial introduction date was pushed back one year to allow for further security testing. And the United States certainly isn’t alone in its venture. Australia adopted a similar upgrade Tuesday, and Great Britain, India, South Africa and many of the world’s developed countries are looking into similar technology, as part of the global push for greater document authenticity.

But before the airports become flooded with digitized passports, the system needs some major tweaking. While administration officials have announced plans to incorporate cryptographic keys inside the chips to control when and to whom the contents are divulged, computer experts say the method is not sufficiently secure for the long haul.

On the whole, the new technology is a solid step forward for national security; it deters document falsification and strengthens border control.

But even though passports are rightfully going high tech, national security should not be strengthened at the expense of U.S. citizens.

Staff Editorial

Daily Texan (U. Texas)