Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Renew for freedom"? Well, sort of...

Largely because it had run out, but partially because of the Renew for Freedom campaign, last month I renewed my passport, sending the thing off with plenty of time for the potential three week turnaround time.

Perhaps thanks to the claimed "resounding success" of the campaign to get as many people as possible renewing in May to avoid the cut-off before the introduction of the new computer-chipped biometric passports, I now have a passport with an issue date of 2nd June - more than three weeks after I sent the thing with next day delivery - an even worse photo than usual, a microchip of some description, and a little leaflet which "contains important information about your new biometric passport". (Although, of course, despite forking out fifty quid for the thing, "Your passport belongs to the government".)

Yes, despite "renewing for freedom", I now have a biometric passport. Cheers guys.

The new chip apparently "stores a copy of your photo and the personal details printed on page 31. There is no extra personal information in the machine-readable zone or on the chip."

As the authorities haven't - to my knowledge - got my fingerprints or DNA (what with me never having been done for any crime), at least I've avoided that part of the biometric invasion, which "we are also considering including... in the future" - apparently "in line with new European Union standards" - which are presumably the ones that Blair's lot made so much fuss to try and push through while they held the EU presidency last year, but as yet (that I recall) have not been passed.

The attempt to pass the fingerprint-storing buck to the EU and "international obligations" is, either way, at best a semi-truth. This is entirely consistent with Blair and co's push for ID cards and the National Identity Register - neither of which are mentioned at all in the accompanying literature, despite now being firmly linked to passports thanks to the piss-poor compromised reached at the final stages of hte Bill's reading.

Vaguely concerningly, the chip also has "an antenna" - although quite for what purpose is not made clear. How far away can the thing be read from? Who is it going to be read by?

Apparently it is "secured by advanced digital encryption techniques", yet they warn that

"The chip and antenna are sensitive electronic devices. Please protect your passport and the chip from damage. They must not be bent, torn or damaged in any way, or exposed to very high or very low temperatures, excess moisture, magnetic fields or microwaves."
So no more carrying the thing in your pocket, travel to sub-Saharan Africa or Antarctica - or Britain for that matter, given the "excess moisture" warning - don't let your headphones get near the thing on the plane, and in fact don't even take it anywhere near an airport...

Hell, perhaps this is the government learning from Apple - create a flimsy product that'll break after a few months and force everyone to upgrade to the new one. Like with an iPod, not only will the new version have a load of useless new features that you'll never want to use, it'll also cost more. But unlike Apple it'll also force your details onto a vast and insecure database, claim continued ownership of the product, and demand that you hand over your fingerprints for the privilege.

Still,I suppose I at least avoid the full-on biometrics that will be coming in in a couple of years. And which, apparently, will now be blamed on the EU - because Blair and co have been quietly trying to push the legislation out as EU-originated while no one was looking. Someone should have seen this coming. Oh - wait - I did.

9 Comments:

Blogger quin said...

I "renewed for freedom" too (and the passport was knackered) and got the same. I was worried about the fragility of the passport too when I got it. And what are all these sodding birds all over it?!

The chip in the passport is an RFID tag, and AFAIK it just contains the same details as what's on the laminate page. The 'antenna' is activated by an external power source, what's known as a 'passive' tag.

Active tags, the type that broadcast on their own, need their own power, and are about the size of three iPods sellotaped back-to-back. You need to be up close to read the passive tag, though it doesn't mean it can be done.

One thing in particular is that some RFID tags don't play very well with one another because they share the same frequency. I *suspect* that if you carry your passport close to your Oyster card neither will work until you separate them. Using technology against itself is always fun.

6/14/2006 10:58:00 am  
Blogger Chris Lightfoot said...

Bad luck on the RFID passport. There were some passports being issued a couple of weeks ago which weren't chipped, but they seem to have managed to get the production process going now. On the plus side, the "facial biometric" (photograph) is completely useless for actual identification, so the privacy risks of the current generation of passports aren't so great. The chip itself is bad news, though. We don't yet know whether the British passports will be vulnerable to the attack demonstrated on the Dutch ones (intercepting and decrypting the owner's details when the passport is talking to the passport officer's reader), because this depends on how the passport numbers are issued, which we don't yet know.

However, on the plus side, even though your passport has an RFID chip in it, you've avoided being on the Register and so being obliged to tell the UK Identity and Passport Service whenever you move house, injure yourself or sneeze. So it's not all bad.

6/14/2006 11:38:00 am  
Blogger Steve said...

"As the authorities haven't - to my knowledge - got my fingerprints or DNA (what with me never having been done for any crime)" - I assume this was meant ironically?

6/14/2006 01:05:00 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Oh, arse. I was hoping to get my NO 2 ID moment in this weekend, and be left un-retinal scanned and unmolested for a few more years yet. Even though they alredy have my fingerprints and DNA it is the principle, dammit.

Can you get a lead passport holder? Or a kryptonite wallet or what have you?

Bloody IT muppets

6/14/2006 11:21:00 pm  
Blogger Chris Lightfoot said...

Rachel -- there's no fingerprinting or iris scanning yet, and you don't need to attend to be interviewed yet either (this is coming in for new applicants later this year). In principle one can obtain an iris scan from a photograph, but a passport-scale photograph isn't good enough for this. The major thing that renewing now avoids -- now that it's, sadly, too late to avoid the RFID chip -- is the risk that the passport will be "designated" so that to get one you have to be put on the National Identity Register. Going on the Register brings with it obligations such as having to notify the government whenever you move, or there is any other material change in your details, for instance if you scratch your finger and so your fingerprint changes.

I believe that the new American passports have a metal layer in the cover (or the pages enclosing the page with the chip on it?) to reduce the risk associated with unauthorised reading of the data on it. Of course, that doesn't help you in the case where somebody eavesdrops on the conversation between the chip and the passport desk terminal or whatever. But you can certainly get a holder for your passport and stick foil in it, or closely-spaced wires.

6/15/2006 12:41:00 am  
Anonymous Osama Saeed said...

Awfully bad luck - mine came back today dated 9 June exactly like my last one with no noticable gadgetry on it.

6/15/2006 02:04:00 am  
Blogger Voyager said...

Buy a nice metal sleeve to carry the passport in or wrap it in alu foil for a pretty cover

6/15/2006 08:54:00 pm  
Blogger D-Notice said...

"They must not be bent, torn or damaged in any way, or exposed to very high or very low temperatures, excess moisture, magnetic fields or microwaves."

Should they really be giving people ideas?

6/18/2006 11:10:00 am  
Blogger Marcin said...

I would recommend a rigid, anti-static sleeve. I need to renew my passport in a couple of weeks, so that's one more thing to worry about.

6/18/2006 11:15:00 pm  

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