RFID in People Access Security Services (PASS) Cards

Last November, the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee of the Department of Homeland Security recommended against putting RFID chips in identity cards. DHS ignored them, and went ahead with the project anyway. Now, the Smart Card Alliance is criticizing the DHS’s RFID program for cross-border identification, basically saying that it is making the very mistakes the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee warned about.

Posted on May 30, 2007 at 6:50 AM17 Comments


bob May 30, 2007 8:13 AM

dont those noobs on the advisory committee know if you want a 3 year old or a government agency to do something you have to tell them NOT to do it?

stacy May 30, 2007 8:21 AM


That only works with the 3 year old; government agencies tend to have their own agendas that are only tangentially connected with their stated goals. It is hard to influence the agenda if you don’t know what it is (you don’t know what to tell them not to do 🙂

Dror May 30, 2007 8:21 AM

The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.
As the advisory committee’s report was buried, this criticism will also be ignored.
Some hard headed bureaucrat made the stupid decision to use RFID, and he’ll be damned if he changed his mind.

supersnail May 30, 2007 8:24 AM

The original report identified the critical failing of RFID as identification :
” …need to verify the connection between a card and bearer “.

The “Smart Card Alliance” griping sounds like a grade school student who just got an “F” but understands the subject so badly he cant work out why.

Eam May 30, 2007 8:37 AM

Supersnail: Not sure if you made it all the way to the third paragraph of the executive summary, but the actual critical failing identified was that RFID “increases risks to personal privacy and security” and can be “used for monitoring human behavior”

Thanks to the hard work of companies like Nike these concerns have been proven correct in the past, so I’m not sure which part you think is being misunderstood.

supersnail May 30, 2007 8:51 AM

@eam: I rather cynically assumed that the DHS dont give a fig about privacy, and, that the real reason was that the commitee identified how useless an RFID chip with a range of 20 feet was for ID purposes.

Current system — scumbag/model citizen hands id card to official who can verify card belongs to model citizen or apprehend scumbag as appropriate.

New System — official looks at monitor which tells him scumbag/model citizen with valid id card is somewhere within twenty feet of him. Official does not know which of the fifty people in the vicinity is carrying the chip so waves everybody through.

Dom De Vitto May 30, 2007 9:22 AM


Just use 2 or 3 directional antenna instead of an omni.

Then you can pinpoint Mr. Not-on-page-with-central-government and give him what for with your glock-9.

Oh, and with all radio equipment, range is pretty much only a factor of transmitter power and antenna rx/tx gain – so the limits of such a system may not be 20m.

Clive Robinson May 30, 2007 10:02 AM


“New System — official looks at monitor which tells him scumbag/model citizen with valid id card is somewhere within twenty feet of him. Official does not know which of the fifty people in the vicinity is carrying the chip so waves everybody through.”

Oh how little you know the Government intent…

New Tax System – People will be forced through metal detector like gateways as currently but… The gateway will have an RFID reader and will identify if you have your ID card on you or not.

If not you will get pulled to one side, and asked to produce your card. If you cannot then you get a nice big on the spot fine (say 100USD). If you can but you carry it in a shielded wallet or some such you then get the “You are an UN American lecture” followed by the “You have been detained for impersonating a terrorist” and given a 1000USD fine.

You might think I am joking but over here in the U.K. just about every bit of “anti-terror” security kit is now being turned into a “cash machine” one way or another.

But the Politicos carry on with their “Not For Profit” mantra. However it quickly becomes obvious with only a little investigation that the manpower and resources in these Not For Profit Departments cost many times over the equivalent in many other Depts. So in effect it is in reality a cross subsidy.

The result the “Big Brother” “Police State” that nobody except the politicos and their favourd suppliers want, gets paid for not by direct taxation where it would get blown out of the water but by “back door” fines. The system also gaurenties very very low supervision or oversite so abuse will be rife at all levels.

And the 64000USD Question why do the Politicos want it… Well in the U.K. most political party funds are in very very dire straits due to “Cash for Honours” and other scandles. So some of the Technology companies are jumping on the band wagon that the 2000USD/Day/consultant companies have been on for some time you kick back a small percentage to party political funds not directly but indirectly by funding all sorts of junkets and press the flesh type activities. Then there is also the next job potential, most of the U.K.s current crop of polititions are not in it for a longterm career they steped out of their consultant company jobs and fully expect to step back at director level having influence government spending and policy in favour of their “real” employers. A number of these are the “Blair Babes” who basicaly appear to be using it as a stratagie to dodge the “Glass ceiling” that had limited their upwards mobility in those companies…

another bruce May 30, 2007 2:20 PM

here you are in line waiting to cross into mexico. ahead of you, an ordinary-looking mexican fellow has just gone through the card reader, and the turnstile opened for him. you present your card to the reader, the turnstile opens for you too, and you cross. 100 feet later, a sinister-looking mexican steps away from the wall toward you. he is an assassin with a card reader, and he has just mistaken you for the narcocartel leader who crossed right in front of you. he isn’t smart enough to make a visual id, or maybe he assumes senor narco had plastic surgery, but he’s damn well dedicated to his assignment, so he pulls a 9 mm and pops you in the head twice. fade to black.

Nat Gist June 1, 2007 12:12 AM

The assumption everyone in the DHS is making is that your personal info is secure because none of the people on the board have any idea how they would go about building an RFID scanner short of paying a contractor several million dollars. Thus they assume no one other than governments and corporations have the ability to do. What they don’t realize is that some people know how to hack one together for a couple hundred.

This is the same kind of security that was used with magnetic cards 10 or 15 years ago before manufacturers realized hackers could buy or build their own and started using encryption. Security through obscurity never works because once someone figures it out everyone else will follow shortly.

rfidglobal.org June 28, 2007 5:57 AM

So many systems that we have today could be improved by a complete redesign. Take the telephone system – if it were reimplemented today, I’d expect digital signatures to make sure I don’t get prank hospital calls, caller ID as standard, and a bunch of other features. Taking a system from analog (as buying and stocking food is today) to digital (RFID food barcodes, etc) needs a lot of future-proofing and standards design. Given how bad the IEEE are at standards, I’d give it a while before these things make it in to homes

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