Do US Passports Need RFID Protection?
Have you ever wondered do US passports need RFID protection? If not, it is an important question to have. With the emergence of data chips implemented in our debit, credit, and identification cards, there is plenty of data we carry on us.
As digital thieves become more advanced in their skills and available technology, all of our data is right at their fingertips. Being able to determine whether RFID protection is necessary relies on knowing what information is in the chips in our passports. Some security experts suggest there’s no need for RFID-blocking wallets, whereas others say that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What Is RFID?
RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. With the use of electromagnetic fields, this technology can track and identify tags that are attached to particular objects, such as passports. They are also commonly used to store information electronically.
What makes RFID unique compared to barcodes is that they can be read by RFID readers up to hundreds of meters away. The microchip doesn’t need to be within the line of sight of the reader. This reason is why these readers have become more common among thieves.
It might sound scary at first, but this type of technology has been around for many years. For example, pharmaceutical companies frequency use RFID technology to track shipments in their warehouses.
It is also something that pet owners use when they decide to microchip their pets for identification purposes. Though it has many useful applications, it leads many to wonder whether this technology has a more sinister factor to consider.
Is RFID Theft a Problem?
The likelihood of being targeted by a digital thief with an RFID scanner is substantially less than getting pickpocketed while you’re abroad. With that said, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem at all, only that it’s highly unlikely. Residents in Europe are far more likely to be targeted by this type of threat than people in North America.
The main reason as to why thieves aren’t too likely to rely on RFID readers for theft is because the information they’ll get their hands on will be relatively useless, as discussed below. It is far more advantageous for them to steal other, more valuable items that are easier to sell. For the amount of time and effort that goes into getting this type of information for travelers, there are more efficient types of theft.
What is seemingly the most concerning about RFID theft is how easy it is to get your hands on a device that can access the information stored in some microchips. This problem was especially prevalent in 2006 and 2007 when the technology first made an appearance on the mass market.
RFID in Passports Versus Credit Cards
What many people don’t know is that the microchips implanted in passports and credit cards are quite different. You’ll find that this is because they hold very specific types of information that are only accessible by particular devices. For example, your credit card is only readable by smartcard readers that you’ve probably seen at a restaurant.
The likelihood of someone stealing your credit card information via RFID is substantially lower than your passport information being taken. On the other end of the spectrum, your passport could fall victim to digital theft. As they contain generic RFID tags, they can be scanned by a traditional RFID reader, as long as the user is within a couple of feet of you.
RFID in Passports
As of 2007, the United States government added RFID chips to all passports as an effort to prevent fraud and improve their security measures. The information on the chip is precisely what you’d find on the passport page. This data includes your date of birth, a digital version of your photo, and your passport number.
However, all of this information is either encrypted or only accessible from computers registered to the United States Department of State. Not only does this mean that thieves will need to have an RFID reader but will also need to be registered with the government to access any of the information.
Though it’s important to note, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has stated the chips inside of passports are designed to have advanced security features that prevent unauthorized access. They have also pointed out that this information is only readable once you open your passport, as the cover supposedly blocks RFID readers.
According to G. Mark Hardy, the president of National Security Corp., he keeps his passport in an RFID-blocking case. He states that your passport information being stolen is “Less likely to happen, at this point, because it’s so much easier to do fraud some other way.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should leave yourself open to the possibility.
Do US Passports Need RFID Protection?
If all of the points the Bureau of Consular Affairs has said are accurate, you shouldn’t have a concern about your passport information being stolen. That is unless you leave your passport open while it’s in your travel bag. The more significant issue is the RFID technology found in passport cards, as they do not have an RFID-blocking cover.
Passport cards are an alternative to the book, and they are a far less expensive option, which makes them quite popular among travelers. It also has an embedded chip that contains some information, such as your identification number.
As a result of rising concerns from travelers who own passport cards, the Bureau has required the card vendor to provide an RFID-blocking sleeve with each card.
How to Protect Yourself from Digital Theft
Even though it is improbable that you will become a target of a thief with an RFID reader, it is always best to have peace of mind, especially while traveling. There are a few essential products that you can put to good use to help protect your digital data from getting out into the world. This point is especially true if you intend to travel to Europe.
If you’re not interested in investing in a new passport case or wallet, there is the option of buying RFID sleeves, which you can typically find for under five dollars. These sleeves are where you can store your credit and debit cards while they are in your regular wallet.
Created from high-quality metals and other shielding materials, you’ll be able to prevent readers from accessing your personal information. Even though RFID sleeves are the least expensive option, they can also be a hassle to travel with.
Every time you need to get to one of your cards, you’ll have to remove the sleeve from the wallet, take out your card, and then put it back in the sleeve. You can then set the card back into your wallet.
An alternative to using RFID-blocking sleeves is to purchase a specialized wallet that has the protection you need. One of our favorite things about these wallets is that they typically have a space for your passport, as well. You’ll be able to keep all of your digital information in one place that is sufficiently insulated from the outside world.
RFID-blocking wallets are made from premium quality materials and are designed to last up to 20 years of regular use before they should be replaced. There is typically a layer of protective material inside of the wallet that covers all of the most critical compartments where you store your cards. Instead of having to manage individual sleeves for each card you own, you can protect everything all at once.
If you’re not too concerned about the information in your debit and credit cards being stolen, we highly recommend you consider an RFID-blocking passport case. They are designed similarly to the specialty wallets in that they have a layer of protective material that will surround your passport.
It is always a good idea to keep your personal information under wraps, especially when thieves can steal it and resell your information for nefarious purposes.
Passport cases are likely a little less costly compared to RFID-blocking wallets, and you can find them in an assortment of sizes. Some are designed specifically for your passport, and others have exclusive slots for your most essential cards. You can look at the case as a way to protect your passport over the years to come.
Purses and Backpacks
Perfect for people who want to go above and beyond, there are also RFID-blocking pieces of luggage that you can buy. There are several purses and backpacks specifically designed for travelers that protect your digital information. Some designs have a special RFID-blocking pocket, whereas others are protective all over.
Many of these items are also designed to prevent snatch-and-grab thieves, as well. The exterior material could be resistant to knives and scissors. You’ll also find the straps are reinforced, so a thief won’t be able to grab your bag off of you unexpectedly.
The Importance of RFID Technology
Now that you are aware of the truth behind RFID technology in passports, you might be wondering, why put it in travel documents in the first place? The main reason as to why the chips are in passports is to keep travelers protected, believe it or not. It’s much easier for people to alter the information on your passport than you’d think.
If someone were to steal your ordinary passport, without a microchip, and alter the page to suit their needs, they could travel with your document. As long as the name and picture matched up with the traveler at the border, no red flags would be raised.
With the implanted microchip, however, when your passport is scanned, the digital information shows who the valid owner of the passport is. If a thief wanted to alter and use your passport, they would have to hack into a government database to change the information, which is relatively impossible.
With the help of RFID technology, immigration officials can keep US residents safe from fraud.
Efficiency at Customs
Another considerable advantage of RFID chips in passports is it helps to expedite the customs process. In the past, travelers would have to wait hours, on average, to enter a country when traveling, even if you were coming back home. With the help of this technology, immigration officials have a little bit of extra support when it comes to verifying documents.
RFID technology and information gathering give officials the ability to answer their own questions. This point means they ask each traveler fewer questions, so they can see more travelers in an hour. Even though there are many situations when airports are still backed up on a day-to-day basis, going through customs has never been more efficient.
Reporting Stolen Passports
If you’re one of the many people who either lose their passport or have it stolen, you’ll be glad there is an RFID chip within its pages. As soon as you report that the document is lost or stolen, it can be deactivated. If someone tries to use your passport to travel after altering the pages, it will trigger a system that proves the document is stolen.
This process is much more efficient than in the past, as when you would lose your passport, you wouldn’t know who had it or if they were using it to their advantage. Today, you can rest assured that even if a thief were to get their hands on it, it would be useless to them. You may also find that with the RFID technology, it will be quicker to obtain a replacement passport.
The main question is, do US passports need RFID protection? Some say yes, others suggest that it’s better to save your money. If you ask us, we think that it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
As RFID protective purses and wallets aren’t too expensive, you can easily keep your information safe. Even though the information on your passport needs to be stolen, then decrypted also to be used, there’s no harm in adding an extra layer of security.