February 22, 2018

Wyden, McCaskill Urge Customs and Border Protection to Turn On Anti-Forgery Features for e-Passports

CBP Currently Doesn’t Have Software to Verify Passports Are Authentic

Washington, D.C.–Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee today urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection to take basic steps to improve U.S. border security by acquiring the capability to use anti-tampering and anti-forgery features built into e-Passports. 

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 required foreigners participating in the Visa Waiver Program —which permits entry into the United States without a visa for a limited period of time —to have smart chips with anti-forgery features in their passports. Visa waiver countries have been required since 2007 to issue e-Passports with chips. The U.S. Department of State also started to issue e-Passports in 2007, with the goal of increasing passport security and aiding in the identification of forged passports. Each e-Passport contains a smart chip, which stores traveler information, signed with a digital signature. However, the Government Accountability Office in 2010 found that the Homeland Security couldn’t verify the digital signatures, because it lacked the software to do so. Nearly 8 years later, DHS still hasn’t fixed the problem.

“It is past time for CBP to utilize the digital security features it required be built into e-Passports,” Wyden and McCaskill wrote to CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. 

Wyden and McCaskill asked CBP to take the following steps:

  1. Work with the relevant subject matter experts at the General Services Administration to determine the true cost of developing or acquiring the technical capacity to validate the digital signatures in e-Passports.
  2. Develop and implement a plan to properly authenticate e-Passports by January 1, 2019.

 Read the full letter here.

According to industry estimates, there are more than 1 billion e-Passports in circulation, and they are now issued by more than 120 countries and states.