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RFID Passports

Via William Gibson’s blog, William Schneier explains why RFID Passports are a bad idea:

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Bush administration–specifically, the Department of Homeland Security–has wanted the world to agree on a standard for machine-readable passports. Countries whose citizens currently do not have visa requirements to enter the United States will have to issue passports that conform to the standard or risk losing their nonvisa status.

These future passports, currently being tested, will include an embedded computer chip. This chip will allow the passport to contain much more information than a simple machine-readable character font, and will allow passport officials to quickly and easily read that information. That is a reasonable requirement and a good idea for bringing passport technology into the 21st century.

Unfortunately, they’re also talking about adding RFID chips, which can be read at a distance. Without any approval or other notification to the passport holder. By any reader. Held by anyone, with any motive. Which is a bad idea:

Think about what that means for a minute. It means that passport holders are continuously broadcasting their name, nationality, age, address and whatever else is on the RFID chip. It means that anyone with a reader can learn that information, without the passport holder’s knowledge or consent. It means that pickpockets, kidnappers and terrorists can easily–and surreptitiously–pick Americans or nationals of other participating countries out of a crowd.

As Gibson writes,

The most striking thing about the Ashcroft take on national security is that it reverses a long trend, actually making it easier for science fiction writers to imagine the future: Just set the dial for Bad Movie and you’re there.

I’m starting to get the feeling SF is going to be harder to write well as I get older and older; but SF, bad, dystopian SF, is gonna get easier and easier to write.

Not too sure how to feel about that.

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