Infineon chips to be used in U.S. e-passports

Several million e-passports with the chip will be issued later this year

German chip maker Infineon Technologies AG will supply chips for new electronic passports that the U.S. expects to begin issuing this fall.

Of the 15 million e-passports to be issued by the end of the year, several million will be equipped with Infineon chips, the manufacturer said today.

The first wave of new U.S. e-passports comes despite lingering privacy and security concerns. Earlier this month, a German security expert at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas demonstrated how e-passports -- equipped with an radio frequency identification chip containing biometric data -- could be copied using a laptop computer, an RFID reader and smart-card reader software.

The chip contained in each new U.S. passport issued beginning in October will contain personal data, such as the bearer's name and date of birth, the passport's validity period and a digital photo of the individual.

The e-passport, according to Infineon, is designed with multiple security levels, including the basic access control. This security feature requires the border control inspector to pass the document over a scanner that reads coded information and then authorizes the electronic reader to access the data stored on the chip. Data transmission occurs over a distance of only about 4 inches.

More than 50 individual security mechanisms are inside the Infineon chip, including sophisticated computing methods for encrypting data. Protective shields on the surface of the chip and sensors also help prevent unauthorized people from being able to read the contents of the chip.

Infineon, which is located in Munich, is supplying chips for e-passports to several other countries, including Germany, Norway and Sweden. 

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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