NEW YORK It's one thing for a technology reporter to chronicle, step by Orwellian step, the development of RFID and its associated privacy issues for the past several years. It's another thing--exciting, disappointing and troubling--to face all those RFID concerns in reality, in the form of a brand new, Patriot Act-mandated electronic passport.
Obviously, I was thrilled to get my new passport. (Who wouldn't? A clean book that shows no records of past travel--unstamped, unsmudged, unscribbled by suspicious customs clerks. It's a fresh start.)
But I was also mildly disappointed.
My new Japanese passport, really, looks no different from the old one.
OK. It does identify itself as an e-passport, with a front cover that bears the e-passport logo standardized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). But this is a subtle change.
What dismayed me was the thickness of the new passport.
In the center of the passport book, there is this new, bulky page—roughly a millimeter thick—that holds my RFID chip. (U.S. passports, on the other hand, have the RFID chip embedded on the back cover.)
What's up with this?
Obviously, the days of the paper thin, invisible chips E.E.Times has been writing about have yet to dawn. I remember a colleague in Japan reporting Hitachi's new RFID chip–a sleek 0.15-millimeter by 0.15-millimeter, 7.5-micron-thick baby that was previewed at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco in 2006. (see: Hitachi advances paper-thin RFID chip)
The story specifically discussed the RFID's application on paper. It said that "paper is typically 80 microns to 100 microns thick, and the chip substrate has been made small and thinned to 7.5 micron to ease application in paper, where it could be used as an intelligent watermark."