Electronic Passport Information

The government began issuing the electronic passport (e-passport) in August 2007 and has issued only e-passports since. E-passports are very similar to passports issued prior to August 2007 with a few exceptions. They have a computer chip embedded in them that digitally stores information about the passport holder, and they have new anti-fraud and security features. All e-passports contain an international symbol to let border officials know data about the passport holder is stored on a chip embedded in the passport.

Why Did the U.S. Government Begin Issuing E-Passports?

The U.S. government began issuing e-passports after Congress passed legislation requiring all countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program to issue electronic passports to their citizens with a digital passport photo that could be run through facial recognition software by border security personnel. The United States made the decision to do the same. The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from 36 countries to visit the United States for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

What Information is Stored on the Chip?

The e-passport has a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) embedded in the back cover that stores the following information:

  • The information that is printed on the passport
  • A digital photo of the passport holder that can be used with facial recognition technology
  • A unique identification number
  • A digital signature to prevent the information stored on the chip from being altered. This is the same technology that is used in credit cards
  • How Does The Electronic Passport Work?

    The RFID chip embedded in the passport allows authorized border and customs personnel to access the information stored on it as travelers approach security checkpoints. Officials can compare the information stored on the chip against information in government databases. They can also run the digital photos through facial recognition technology compare them with individuals on terrorist watch lists. Because officials don’t have to wait until you reach the checkpoint to access your information when you have an e-passport, the chip helps reduce wait times at border security.

    What if the Chip Doesn’t Work?

    The computer chips are designed to last for the life of the passport. However, if for some reason the information on the chip cannot be accessed by authorized officials, your electronic passport is still valid and can be used for international travel.

    How Secure is the E-Passport?

    As with any technology, there have been many questions about the security of the e-passport. The government has taken many steps to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing your information illegally by skimming, eavesdropping, tracking or cloning.

    The following security features help protect your information:

  • A blocking material is used on the cover of e-passports that requires the passport to be opened before it can be read
  • Protocols have been established to ensure that only authorized RFID readers can access the information stored on the chips embedded in the e-passport
  • A random unique identification number is generated each time someone attempts to access the information on the chip in the electronic passport
  • When the information on the chip is accessed, it is compared to the information printed on the passport to make sure it is the same
  • Is My Old Passport Still Valid?

    If your passport was issued before August 2007 and it has not expired, it will remain valid until it expires. You may continue to use your passport for international travel even if it does not have a computer chip in it.

    How Long Does it Take to Receive an E-Passport?

    Passport processing times have not changed since the introduction of the e-passport. In general, it takes four to six weeks to receive an electronic passport when you choose routine service and two to three weeks when you choose expedited service. However, it can take longer when demand is high.

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