Department of State Offers Update on Development of Electronic Passport

New rules apply to recording data on passport chip and reading data from that chip

   EFFECTIVE DATE: This rule is effective October 25, 2005.

   FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sharon Palmer-Royston, Office of Passport Policy, Planning and Advisory Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs on 202-663-2662.

   SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This rule was originally published in the Federal Register on February 18, 2005 (70 FR 8305) as a proposed rule that included changes to the passport regulations needed due to the pending introduction of the electronic passport, as well as changes related to passport amendments, replacement passports, and unpaid fees that did not relate exclusively to electronic passports. Because of the volume of comments, we separated the proposed rule into two final rules. The first rule, RIN 1400-AC11, incorporated the provisions of the proposed rule on passport amendments, replacement passports, and unpaid fees. We received only two comments on those provisions. The second, and instant, rule focuses on electronic passports.

Analysis of Comments

   We received a total of 2,335 comments on the introduction of the electronic passport. All comments have been read, sorted, and tabulated according to primary concerns. Comments opposing the proposed rule primarily focus on security and/or privacy, the adequacy of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), technology, and religious concerns. Specifically, concerns focused as follows: 2019 comments listed security and/or privacy; 171 listed general objections to use of the data chip and/or the use of RFID; 85 listed general objections to use of the electronic passport; 52 listed general technology concerns; and 8 listed religious concerns. Overall, approximately 1% of the comments were positive, 98.5% were negative, and .5% were neither negative nor positive.

   The comments are available for review at, under the passport section, or at the Department of State (Department) reading room.

Security and Privacy

   Passports must be globally interoperable--that is, they must function the same way at every nation's border when they are presented. To that end, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has developed international specifications for electronic passports that will ensure their security and global interoperability. These specifications prescribe use of contactless smartcard chips and the format for data carried on the chips. They also specify the use of a form of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) that will permit digital signatures to protect the data from tampering. The United States (U.S.) will follow these international specifications to ensure its electronic passport is globally interoperable.

   The Department intends to begin the electronic passport program in December 2005. The first stage will be a pilot program in which the electronic passports will be issued to U.S. Government employees who use Official or Diplomatic passports for government travel. This pilot program will permit a limited number of passports to be issued and field tested prior to the first issuance to the American traveling public, slated for early 2006. By October 2006, all U.S. passports, with the exception of a small number of emergency passports issued by U.S. embassies or consulates, will be electronic passports.

   The ICAO specification for use of contactless chip technology requires a minimum capacity of 32 kilobytes (KB). The U.S. has decided to use a 64KB chip to permit adequate storage room in case additional data, or biometric indicators such as fingerprints or iris scans, are included in the future. Before modifying the definition of "electronic passport" to add a new or additional biometric identifier other than a digitized photograph, we will seek public comment through a new rule making process.

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