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Why You Need a New Passport Cover

RFID Technology
RFID Technology by yuriy2design/DepositPhotos

Since 2007, the U.S. Department of State has issued only electronic passports. By 2017, all valid passports will have been replaced with the new e-passport. The new passports contain an embedded chip in the back cover. The chip contains your personal data from the data page of your passport; a biometric identifier, which in this case is a digitized photo of you; the chip identification number; and a digital signature designed to thwart alteration of the data. When the passport is scanned, the digital photograph in the chip is read by facial recognition technology at the port of entry.

Some travelers are concerned about possible threats to the security of sensitive information on the chip and violations of their own rights to privacy by third parties. Indeed there are some risks inherent to electronic passports; they are cloning, which is replacing the chip with a different one; tracking, which is where the movements of the passport holder are tracked via carrying the passport; skimming, which is wirelessly stealing the information from your chip; and eavesdropping, which is intercepting the information from your chip as it is being scanned. The Department of State has taken security measures to block the possibility of these threats to passport security.

This system works on RFID technology, radio-frequency identification where there is a wireless transmission through electromagnetic fields of your personal data designed to automatically identify and track it. This same technology is used with credit cards. In both cases, the data can be read by counterfeit readers from a distance. That is why you need an RFID-blocking cover for your passport like the popular Royce Genuine Leather RFID Blocking Passport Cover Travel Wallet (Black/Red). Not all RFID-blocking covers are the same, however, so you want to look at the product specs for the words "faraday cage" or "electromagnetically opaque" or you may just be wasting your money.

RFID products are widely available. A quick search on Amazon and luggage sites reveals several products from only $11.99 to hundreds of dollars. One travel hacker used an Altoids box as a faraday cage for his credit cards and they couldn't be read. As soon as he opened it, they could, but the reader had to be within a few inches. Of course, your passport isn't going to fit into an Altoids box, but you get the idea of their importance in the days of electronic pickpocketing. RFID-blocking products aren't foolproof; they get old, damaged, or are used incorrectly, but every layer of protection matters.

Unfortunately, there are people in life determined to prey on unsuspecting travelers with their portable readers, electronically pickpocketing the unaware. While no security solution is 100% effective, being aware of your surroundings and using RFID-blocking covers for credit cards and passport add layers of protection to your personal data and privacy.

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