Patrick McNally writes that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in new e-passports are expected to have far shorter lifetimes than originally intended. This should surprise no-one. Such technological incompetence is par for the course where the Home Office is involved. However, it is likely that this particular display of ineptitude will be a blessing in disguise for many passport holders.
In its unseemly haste to dance to the tune of the US State Department, the Passport Agency failed to introduce adequate security measures. Weak encryption coupled with a lack of basic radio shielding means that these chips can be read surreptitiously by electronic eavesdroppers.
Researchers working with NO2ID have already demonstrated the ability to read a new passport - still in its unopened delivery packaging - and extract the data necessary to clone it.
You will never know if someone cloned your new passport while it was en route to you. Nor, while the unshielded chip continues to broadcast data, will you know if someone is reading it while it rests in your pocket. Perhaps the person sitting beside you on the bus to the airport has an RFID-scanning laptop computer in their bag.
While you are sunning yourself at the beach, criminals may be applying for credit in your name using the data it broadcasts. Ironically, your passport will become safer when this so-called security measure fails. Fortunately, it will remain a valid travel document even after the chip is inactive.
I should caution readers wishing to improve the security of their new passports that the document remains the property of HM Government and prolonged exposure to the inside of a microwave oven will cause visible signs of burning. The Home Office is kindly providing kiosks in passport offices so you can verify your chip still works.
Unfortunately the sub-clause that contrasted the inside of a microwave oven with a hammer was edited out.