From John Twelve Hawks’s “ How We Live Now” (2005):
The passports contain a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) so that all our personal information can be instantly read by a machine at the airport. However, the State Department has refused to encrypt the information embedded in the chip, because it requires more complicated technology that is difficult to coordinate with other countries. This means that our personal information could be read by a machine called a “skimmer” that can be placed in a doorway or a bus stop, perhaps as far as 30 feet away.
The U.S. government isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t concerned by this, but the contents of Paris HiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cell phone, which uses the same kind of RFID chip, were skimmed and made public last year. It may not seem like a problem when a semi-celebrityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s phone numbers and emails are stolen, but it is quite possible that an American tourist walking down a street in a foreign country will be “skimmed” by a machine that reads the passport in his or her pocket. A terrorist group will be able to decide if the name on the passport indicates a possible target before the tourist reaches the end of the street.
The new RFID passports are a clear indication that protection is not as important to the authorities as the need to acquire easily accessible personal information.