Passports Go High-Tech

ByABC News
August 14, 2006, 8:15 PM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2006 — -- The State Department today rolled out the next generation of U.S. passports. The new electronic passports (e-passports) contain a small computer chip and antenna in the corner of the back cover that the government says will not only speed up lines at ports of entry, but will also make the passports more secure and harder to counterfeit.

The new passport will look almost the same from the outside, keeping the traditional blue covers with gold insignia, but it will also have a small icon on the cover that is the international symbol for an e-passport.

The passports are also slightly thicker than the previous ones and the page designs and layout will be different than before, all of which the State Department says are part of the increased security in the new design.

Personal information will now be located on the second page of the passport, rather than on the inside cover as it was before, and pages will feature raised lettering and watermarks.

The computer chip in the passport will provide an extra layer of identification to protect against counterfeiting. In order to read the chip, the passport must be swiped or scanned manually, as the old passports are now, to activate the chip. The passport is then waved over a reader that verifies that the information on the chip is authentic and consistent with the information printed on the passport.

These new passports will be available first only for those applications processed at the Denver, Colo., passport office.

The State Department hopes to expand production of the new e-passports to more passport offices over the coming months, with the goal of all new passports being e-passports by the end of 2007.

Since passports are valid for up to 10 years, State Department officials say they hope that by 2017 all U.S. passports in circulation will be e-passports.

Some people, however, are concerned that the new passports will be more vulnerable to identity theft, hacking, and manipulation. The computer chips will contain personal information, such as name, birthdate, and a digital photograph of the bearer.