Seriously. If you get a new one with the RFID chip, you should strongly consider taking a hammer to it so as to disable the RFID chip. Yes, it is illegal, but it is probably still a good idea.
Why? Because otherwise people can read your passport data and copy it without you ever knowing. And it is on longer an academic exercise. There is a kit out there that can do it for about $250 in parts, plus a laptop computer.
OK, the system can only read the serial number of the passport right now. Still, that is pretty scary. Nothing like a little bit more of a surveillance state being built up that can be operated without any physical presence.
To be sure, the RFID tags contain no personally identifiable information, but rather what amounts to a record pointer to a secure Department of Homeland Security database. But because the pointer is a unique number, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil libertarians warn the cards are still susceptible to abuse, especially if their RFID tags can be read and captured in large numbers. Cloning the unique electronic identifier is the first step in creating fraudulent passport cards, they say.
The cards also amount to electronic license plates that could be used to conduct clandestine surveillance. Law enforcement officials could scan them at political rallies and then store them in databases. The tags could also be correlated to other signals, such as electronic toll-booth payment systems or RFID-based credit cards, to track the detailed movements of their holders.
I renewed mine in early 2006, just before the RFIDs became mandatory, specifically to avoid this issue. I’m glad I made it in under the wire.
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