Monday, November 29, 2004

Smileless Passports on the Airwaves

The absurdity of some of the guidelines for biometric passports hits the mainstream. In a previous post I pointed out that we can keep on smiling in Holland for another year. In the US they aren't so lucky: a neutral look identifies best, so close that mouth, cover those teeth, and straight your face!

BoingBoing speaks of the "unhappiest passports on earth". Europe will follow the US soon in its misery, and could take an extra measure: fingerprinting. European Digital Rights has written a long, open letter on the issue to the European Parliament. It gives an oversight of the call for biometric passports and the privacy issues that may arise, especially by fingerprinting.

More privacy concerns are raised by an AP story that the US government plans to add RFID chips to US passports, starting next year. Ed Felten explains what the problem is with this idea:
The chips will allow the passport holder's name, date of birth, passport issuance information, and photograph to be read by radio. Opponents claim that the information will be readable at distances up to thirty feet (about nine meters). This raises privacy concerns about government monitoring, for example of attendance at political rallies, and about private monitoring, especially overseas.

I would certainly feel less safe in certain places if I knew that anybody there could remotely identify me as a U.S. citizen. I would feel even less safe knowing that anybody could get my name and look me up in a database or Google me.

If the no-smile mandate didn't, this might have taken the smile of your face anyway.


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