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Infineon Technologies AG, a maker of advanced semiconductors for various markets, on Monday said that it had received a multi-million order for its security products that will be employed in new U.S. electronic passports. The chips will hold the data of the passport’s owner and will help to fight fake documents.

The electronic passport is designed with multiple layers of security to protect the privacy of holders. This includes Basic Access Control (BAC), which requires the border control inspector to pass the document over a scanner that reads coded information and then authorizes the electronic reader to access the data stored on the chip. The actual data transmission occurs over a distance of about 4” (10 cm). In addition to shielding and BAC, there are more than 50 individual security mechanisms inside the Infineon chip, including computing methods for encrypting data, to help ensure that personal data remains private. Security mechanisms on the Infineon chips also include active protective shields on the surface of the chip and sensors that help prevent unauthorized people from being able to read the contents of the chip.

The US began issuing electronic passports to diplomats and other government workers in late 2005, and is now expanding the program to include the widely issued tourist passport used by private citizens. By the end of this year, the government expects that all new U.S. passports will be issued as electronic passports.

“As the leading supplier of the specialized chips used for secure personal identification, financial transactions and access to electronic systems, our chips have successfully passed some of the most stringent security tests in the world. We are very happy to be chosen to supply the electronics for the large-scale roll-out of the US electronic passport,” said Christopher Cook, managing director of Infineon Technologies North America Corp.

As a security measure, the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring that countries participating in the USA Visa Waiver Program must issue passports with secure chip technology by October 2006. Concurrently, the U.S. adopted this technology to conform to specifications for electronic passports developed by the international standards body for travel documents, the International Civil Aviation Organization. 

In the past ten years, the USA has issued more than 67 million passports, which are valid for ten years from date of issue. The U.S. Government estimates that up to 15 million new passports will be issued in the first full year of the electronic passport roll-out – which currently represents the single biggest electronic passport project worldwide. Each new passport will contain a chip, protected by shielding material, which contains an encrypted copy of the printed information on the passport – including the bearer’s name, date of birth, validity period and a digital photo of the individual. The digital photo allows the use of facial recognition technology at border crossings to authenticate the passport holder’s identity.

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