E-Passport: All About the Electronic Passport
E-passport or Electronic Passport is similar to the traditional
passport book except for one significant difference. The E-passport has
an RFID chip
embedded in the back cover of the travel document.
The information stored on the chip is the same as that which is
displayed on the data page of the passport. This includes your full
name, date of birth, place of birth, date the passport was issued,
expiration date, etc. The chip also contains a biometric identifier in
the form of a digital image of your passport photo. The chip has a
unique identification number and a digital signature as a protective
The answers to frequently asked
questions below should provide you with all the information you want to
know about the electronic passport.
What is an Electronic Passport?
An Electronic Passport is the same as a traditional passport with the addition of a small integrated circuit
(or “chip”) embedded in the back cover. The chip stores:
What is a Biometric? Which one does the new Electronic Passport use?
- The same data visually displayed on the data page of the passport;
biometric identifier in the form of a digital image of the passport
photograph, which will facilitate the use of face recognition
technology at ports-of-entry;
- The unique chip identification number; and
- A digital signature to protect the stored data from alteration.
A biometric or biometric identifier is a measurable physical or
behavioral characteristic of an individual, which can be used to verify
the identity of that individual or to compare against other entries
when stored in a database. Biometrics include face recognition, fingerprints,
and iris scans
. The U.S. Electronic Passport uses the digital image of the passport photograph as the biometric identifier that is used
with face recognition technology to verify the identity of the passport bearer.
What are the special features of an Electronic Passport?
The special features of an Electronic Passport are:
How does an Electronic Passport facilitate travel?
- Securely stored biographical information and digital image that are identical to the information that is visually displayed
in the passport;
- Contactless chip technology that allows the information stored in an Electronic Passport to be read by special chip readers
at a close distance.
digital signature technology to verify the authenticity of the
data stored on the chip. This technology is commonly used in
credit cards and other secure documents using integrated circuits or
The Electronic Passport facilitates travel by allowing:
- Automated identity verification;
- Faster immigration inspections; and
- Greater border protection and security.
The Electronic Passport is designed to function for the passport’s full validity period under normal use.
Why are Electronic Passports being issued?
As a security measure, Congress has legislated that all countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program with
the United States must issue passports with integrated circuits
(chips), to permit storage of at least a digital image of the passport
photograph for use with face recognition technology. The U.S. is
doing so on a reciprocal basis and will comply with the latest
international standards established for secure travel documents.
What countries will issue an Electronic Passport?
Several other nations have begun or will begin to issue e-passports. The Visa Waiver Program countries have already done
What happens if an Electronic Passport is lost or stolen?
Any passport that is lost or stolen should be reported immediately. U.S. passports reported lost or stolen are invalidated
and can no longer be used for travel. How to report and replace a lost or stolen U.S. passport.
What is the Electronic Passport logo and what does it mean?
Electronic Passport logo (shown below) is the international symbol for
an electronic passport. It signifies that the passport contains
an integrated circuit or chip in which data about the passport and
passport bearer is stored. The logo will be displayed at border
inspection lanes at all airports and transit ports equipped with
special data readers for Electronic Passports.
Can a previously issued passport still be used for travel as long as it is still valid?
Yes. Previously issued passports that are still valid can be used for travel.
Can the new electronic passport be amended, for example, if I change my name?
No. The new electronic passports cannot be amended. If you
change your name, need to extend a limited passport, or need a
correction in the descriptive information, you will have to get a new
passport. Within the first year after issuance, the new passport
will be issued without additional payment of the passport fee.
After one year, fees will be assessed for the new passport.
Can a request be made for a new passport to be issued without a chip?
No. Since August 2007, all domestic passport agencies and centers issue only e-passports.
Will someone be able to read or access the information
on the chip without my knowledge (also known as skimming or
eavesdropping)? We feel that it would be
good to point out what we have done to diminish the known nefarious
acts of “skimming” data from the chip, “eavesdropping” on
communications between the chip and reader, “tracking” passport
holders, and “cloning” the passport chip in order to facilitate
identity theft crimes. Skimming is the act of
obtaining data from an unknowing end user who is not willingly
submitting the sample at that time. Eavesdropping is the
interception of information as it moves electronically between the chip
and the chip reader. “Skimming.” The Department
is using an embedded metallic element in our passports. One of
the simplest measures for preventing unauthorized reading of
e-passports is to add RF blocking material to the cover of an
e-passport. Before such a passport can be read, it has to be
physically opened. It is a simple and effective method for
reducing the opportunity for unauthorized reading of the passport at
times when the holder does not expect it. “Skimming and “Eavesdropping.”
We have adopted Basic Access Control (BAC) to minimize the risk of
“skimming” and “eavesdropping.” Basic Access Control requires
that the initial interaction between the embedded microchip in the
passport and the border control reader include protocols for setting up
the secure communication channel. To ensure that only authorized
RFID readers can read data, Basic Access Control stores a pair of
secret cryptographic keys in the passport chip. When a reader
attempts to scan the passport, it engages in a challenge-response
protocol that proves knowledge of the pair of keys and derives a
session key. If authentication is successful, the passport
releases its data contents; otherwise, the reader is deemed
unauthorized and the passport refuses read access. This control
would require the receiving state to read the passport machine-readable
zone (MRZ) to unlock and read the data on the chip. The MRZ
information is used for computing the encryption and message
authentication keys used for the “secure” exchange. BAC mollifies
the possibility of both “skimming” and “eavesdropping.” “Tracking.” A chip that
is protected by the BAC mechanism denies access to its contents unless
the inspection system can prove that it is authorized to access the
chip. However, these chips still allow the Unique Identifier
(UID) to be communicated with the reader, which could theoretically
allow the document bearer to be “tracked.” To prevent the use of
the UID for “tracking”, the Department is using a Random UID
feature. A RUID presents a different UID each time the chip is
accessed. In order to be considered random, the e-passport must
present an RUID that cannot be associated with UID’s used in sessions
that precede or follow the current session. Each chip uses its
onboard hardware random number generator (RNG) module, thereby
utilizing a true RNG base to derive a RUID.
It is possible to substitute the chip of an e-passport with a fake chip
storing the data copied from the chip of another e-passport.
However, the simplest way to mitigate this treat is to verify that the
chip data belongs to the presented e-passport. This can be done by
comparing the data stored on the chip to data on the e-passports
data-page. If the photos and biographical data matches and the
passport does not appear to have been tampered with (is not
counterfeited), then the e-passport and the data stored on the chip can
be considered to be belonging together. Additionally, the
introduction of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) into travel documents
provides, for the first time, the means of automatically (without human
intervention) confirming that the person presenting the travel
document, is the same person shown on the data page, and on the chip,
with the assurance that the data was put there by the issuing authority
and that the data has not been changed. Can the information on the chip be altered and how is the information protected from being accessed by an unauthorized reader?
The new passports use Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology that
prevents the information stored on the chip from being altered.
The e-passport and the use of the PKI digital signature stands to
benefit the legitimate traveler. It provides a more sophisticated
means to confirm that the traveler is the rightful holder of the
passport and that the passport is authentic, thus deterring would-be
passport/identity thieves. Use of the PKI to validate and
authenticate the data in the chip supports passport inspection and
would strengthen border control systems. What will happen if my Electronic passport fails at a port-of-entry?The
chip in the passport is just one of the many security features of the
new passport. If the chip fails, the passport remains a valid
travel document until its expiration date. The bearer will
continue to processed by the port-of-entry officer as if he/she had a
passport without a chip.
Source: Department of State
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