Starting next fall when you renew your passport it’s going to come with something new. In October, the US will begin embedding in the document a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip containing all kinds of information about the owner, including a digital picture. This is the same technology that’s used to automatically collect tolls and identify pets (and keep track of students).

Eventually this will mean customs will be able to scan your passport for all the information they need, and even digitally compare your face with your picture. Unfortunately, as things stand right now, someone sitting next to you in the airport may also be able to grab your information.

The rules being proposed by the State Department, which other countries must also follow if their citizens want to visit the US, say that the information will not be encrypted, leaving the chips open to "skimming". The State Department, of course, doesn’t think this will be a problem.

The State Department concedes that skimming is a legitimate threat, but says the chips will have a read range of inches, that eavesdropping at border stations would be very conspicuous and that the passports will have a shielding mechanism — perhaps a foil case or a weave in the cover that will cloak the chip when the passport is closed.

Digitally encoding information on a passport is a great idea. However, when it comes to technology, the stronger the security the better. If they say the "read range" is inches, someone will develop a reader with a range of feet. If you include something to block the signal, someone will find a way to pierce the block. Even encryption is not 100% fool-proof but at least it provides a basic level of security against unauthorized access to your information.

Read the whole article. The State Department is taking written comment about this proposal until April 4. Maybe someone can talk a little sense into them before they go ahead with it.