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An electronic passport appears similar to a regular passport, but is embedded with a computer chip that contains physical information about the traveler. Personal information recorded on the photo page of the passport can be accessed via the electronic chip, along with biometic information. Biometic technology includes face recognition, iris scans, and fingerprints. The United States began issuing electronic passports in 2007, along with some participating countries.
A radio frequency identification chip (RFID) is embedded in the back cover of an electronic passport. These chips are scanned by special readers at border crossings to verify the identity of a traveler. When an electronic passport is issued, a digital photo of the applicant is implanted into the chip, allowing facial recognition to authenticate the traveler’s identity.
Travelers from certain countries can use an electronic passport, also called an e-passport, to enter the United States without a visa if traveling for tourism or business purposes. A 90-day restriction applies to these visits, and a visa can be obtained if preferred. More than three dozen countries participate in the program through a visa waiver program. Some of the participating countries joined U.S. government officials in testing the electronic passport before the program became effective.
U.S. officials say the new passports are protected against identity theft and are more difficult to alter than older paper passports. Travelers can be readily identified to guard their safety and the safety of other travelers. Safeguards are built into the system to prevent unauthorized reading of computer chips because scanning machines are programmed with secure channels and information is encrypted in chip readers.
These assurances have failed to deter opponents of electronic passports. They believe the radio frequency identification chips can be read from a distance, putting American citizens in danger when visiting foreign countries. Criminals or terrorists targeting Americans could remotely read information on the chip via portable chip readers, opponents say.
To address this fear, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security points out that the cover of an electronic passport must be open before the chip can be read. Government officials say an electronic passport must be within 4 inches (10 centimeters) of a reading device to pick up information from the chip. Opponents say the chip can be read from a distance of 60 feet (18 meters). A metal shield over the passport cover could block electronic signals from remote readers.
E-passports contain an international logo on the cover that identifies them. This symbol allows travelers to form in lines where electronic readers are available at border crossings. The new passports might save time for travelers passing through immigration inspections. People who hold passports issued before e-passports regulations became effective may still use them until they expire.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an electronic passport and how does it differ from a traditional passport?
An electronic passport, also known as an e-passport, is a traditional passport enhanced with an embedded electronic chip. This chip securely stores the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport, such as the holder's name, date of birth, and other biographical information. Additionally, the chip can contain biometric identifiers. In contrast to a traditional passport, an e-passport can be scanned to verify the traveler's identity against the biometric data, making travel more secure and efficient.
How does the biometric feature in an electronic passport improve security?
The biometric feature in an electronic passport improves security by providing unique identifiers such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scans that are difficult to forge or tamper with. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the use of biometrics in e-passports helps to combat identity theft and ensures that the person presenting the passport is the legitimate holder, thereby enhancing border security and facilitating faster immigration processing.
Are electronic passports accepted in all countries?
While electronic passports are widely accepted and used in over 150 countries, there may still be some countries that do not have the technology to read e-passports. However, e-passports are designed to be compliant with the standards set by the ICAO, which most countries follow. Travelers should check with their destination country's embassy or consulate to ensure their e-passport will be accepted.
What should I do if my electronic passport is lost or stolen?
If your electronic passport is lost or stolen, you should report it immediately to the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate of your country. According to the U.S. Department of State, you will need to apply for a replacement passport before you can travel again. It's crucial to protect your e-passport from unauthorized access, as the embedded chip contains sensitive personal information.
How long is an electronic passport valid, and can it be renewed?
The validity of an electronic passport typically ranges from 5 to 10 years, depending on the issuing country and the age of the passport holder at the time of issuance. For example, in the United States, e-passports are valid for 10 years for adults and 5 years for minors under the age of 16. Renewal processes vary by country; some may require a new e-passport to be issued rather than renewing the existing one.