Next-generation Passports and ID Cards – Shift to Ultra High Frequency?

Published: 23 Apr 2010

By Reuben Foong; Research Analyst - Smartcards Asia Pacific, Navin Rajendra; Industry Analyst – Biometrics & Smartcards Asia Pacific, and Richard Sebastian; Industry Analyst – RFID Asia Pacific

The Status of ID and e-Passport System Today

The e-Passport or Biometric Passport widely accepted today was pioneered in Malaysia and was first launched in 1998. The first e-Passports were very basic, with only the passport holders' basic details (found on the data page) stored in the 8 kB chip. Smart cards chips were used as an anti-forgery device. For several reasons, the smart cards used were contactless cards, and the radio frequency transmission and protocol adopted followed the ISO 14443 standard, which was, and is still, common for contactless smart cards communicating at 13.56 MHz High Frequency (HF) technology.

Realizing the need for a new generation of passports, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an arm of the United Nations (UN), made recommendations for e-Passports and released these recommendations in Document 9303, which was released in 2003. In less than 5 years after these documents were released, most first world countries and many developing countries have adopted e-Passports, mostly following the recommendations made by ICAO.

The close-proximity communication frequency of HF MHz was a necessity for smart cards in order to prevent information skimming from a distance. Even through security measures in the form of Basic Access Control (BAC), Extended Access Control (EAC), and the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) have been introduced, which are expected to block any skimming efforts, the first e-Passports did not have such security in place. Hence, there is a necessity for close proximity reading.

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