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Passport problems: risk to personal security
In addition to the obvious problems of PASSPORTS including being a nuisance to honest travellers, allowing criminals an easy way to have false credibility, letting governments have unfair control over people, and opening up a can of worms in the form of people being held to ransom by anyone keeping hold of the traveller's passport in some faraway locale, there is now an additional problem which a variety of authoritarian governments have introduced. The problem is to do with digital information stored on a microchip in the passport.
Maybe some bureaucratic government officials were naive enough to believe that digitised passports would somehow "improve security", but their fuhrers in the secret corridors of power must surely be culpably guilty of knowing that the whole fiasco is a shocking excuse to apply tyranny to folk.
However, the problem goes further than the "Big Brother is Watching You" type of problem. The digital ID passports are a carte-blanche to criminals to steal your identity! Here are some of the many problems:
* Digital (biometric) passports are expensive. YOU are forced to pay for it in the form of a stealth tax. Either pay up, or you are trapped in the country as if it's a jail.
* Digital passports use a microchip with a huge loop antenna. If there was even the basic security of having a SWITCH on it so you could turn it off, it would mean that immigration officials could view the passport but the crooks would not be able to see it. Unfortunately, the UK government has not implemented any form of switch, which means that your passport is an easy target and can be read by anyone with a gadget. (It has been suggested that a switch as small as that may be beyond current technology, but I would suggest that musical christmas cards may already have a switch solution applicable to passports, and for credit cards something thin enough and strong enough and reliable enough should surely be possible?)
* The security protocol was supposed to be "uncrackable", but it was cracked within a very short time, and the methods are now widely known.
* To read a person's passport at a distance requires a gizmo which uses basic radio technology and some pieces of computer equipment which are relatively portable. Update 2011: These are now available on the black market including online auction sites.
Contrasting this with a basic old-style passport: For a criminal to make a copy, they'd have to be adept at pickpocketing to get the passport off you, then swiftly take a high-res photograph, and then somehow smuggle it back to you without you knowing. In contrast, criminals can get a copy of your digital biometric passport without even getting right-up close to you. It's in effect "contactless technology"! (Also note that "contactless technology" on credit cards should also come with a switch and/or a metal card-case).
All's not lost, however. There is a way you can defeat the dastardly plans of crooks hellbent on identity theft. Even the "kick me" open invitation represented by the digital passport with its loop-antenna giving away your info to anyone who wants it, can the thwarted by some basic shielding technology. Here's my suggestion:
1. Get a DVD case, one of those narrow ones that have the latest movie release in.
2. Take the DVD out and then cut away the extra bits of plastic, so as to provide some space that your passport can comfortably fit into.
3. Get some thin laminate steel plate like the sort of stuff found in an iron core transformer. Cut it to the right size with tinsnips. Make two rectangular pieces to the required size for the front and back cover, and then insert them into the covers.
So, there you have it. A passport case that's shielded against magnetic influences. Also, as well as having a magnetic shielding effect, it also has some ability to reflect electromagnetic radio waves, x-rays, and other forms of radiation. Note: This is far better than just wrapping your passport in aluminium foil. Remember that you need to shield against magnetic fields as well as electric fields. (The result is not heavy, as the iron is quite thin). Also, the DVD case is a sensible size and fits into your hand luggage easily.
I expect someone will start manufacturing these passport protective shield cases. They should sell quite well! Update 2011: These are started to be available online. Passport cases with EM shielding.
Also, it may be of interest to a company to put their logo on a DVD case RDIF shield. A travel company would do well making a steel shield passport case with their name on the front, and a bank or financial company would do well with their name on the front. It's a promotional materials item, as well as a security measure.
Use a Passport Tin:
If you can't get such a special paranoid passport-case, and you don't fancy making one, you could look around the shops and see what products are available in tins of a relatively flat style. Metal cigar-cases, plaster/bandage cases, and other thin tins, might happen to be the right size. Any company manufacturing a product of about the right size versus a passport might consider making the tin just exactly the right size and then be able to boast "free paranoid passport-case with every pack!".
Now admittedly these cunning ideas to protect your passport might help to thwart criminals copying your passport, but none of this stops the evil government from claiming yet another piece of your soul. To defeat them we'll need something stronger, such as a concerted effort to overthrow these appalling regimes. In the meantime, we can still stop crooks from making us all such easy targets.
Wherever the government tries to impose the tyranny of Big Brother Identity Systems on you, they've set themselves up as The Enemy of The People. If you are thinking about revolution and overthrowing the government oppression, make sure that you replace it with something that's genuinely libertarian and which guarantees personal freedom and privacy rather than repeats the mistakes of the past. This same issue has been highlighted with the revolution in Tunisia and other overthrown governments.
Small scale defence: You can protect your passport (against thieves, etc) by keeping it in a thin tin of the right size, or a steel laminated DVD-case. If you have a few contactless technology credit cards, these can be kept in a cigar tin. If you have a fat wallet full of cards, you may have to look around to find a tin of the appropriate size. It's worth hunting around Wilko to find a tin! The passport defending steel-plated cases are known as "RFID shields" and are becoming an item in stock at various gadget shops, even Amazon! Doing a search for "RFID passport case" comes up with all sorts of stuff.
Also see DVD shops, Down With Identity Cards, overthrow of the government in Tunisia, and gadgets
The passport tin shown is a "Craven A" Black Cat cigar tin, a quality ferromagnetic steel tin, the cigars having been long-ago smoked by my ancestors. In the modern age, electronic cigarettes have also become a freedom issue.
Note that the VISA card shown is representative not actual. The name ZYRA is accurate, and is as it appears on the card, as a single name, but the card number has been faked-up so as to prevent fraud. This and other paranoid measures are taken in the business of personal security.
The money card tin shown as an Airstrip tin which previously contained plasters which were used for for minor first aid emergencies.