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My travel passport contains the "biometric" RFID chip. While I can at any moment check that my passport itself is intact (not torn or anything) I can't check whether the chip inside is functioning as expected and whether the antenna used for powering it is intact.

Suppose I'm trying to cross the border and my passport is attempted to be accessed via RFID and the RFID system in my passport malfunctions. Now what? Am I denied entry?

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3 Answers 3

You accidentally get confused with someone on the no-fly list? :) Worst case they can scan the barcode or even enter the number manually - your face etc is still on the system, much like those who don't yet have RFID passports. There may be a few interesting questions, but you should still be allowed in.

The US is the only tricky one I can think of as they now insist on RFID chipped passports for entry into the country, but even they have backup plans.

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I'm pretty sure they don't require RFID passports. They do require Machine Readable passports, but that means one with the magic barcode thing at the bottom of the details page –  Gagravarr Sep 3 '11 at 10:53
    
Believe I got the impression from articles like this: pcworld.com/article/123246/… - but maybe it's only for ones they issue. –  Mark Mayo Sep 3 '11 at 11:23
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I think it is, yes. Many countries are moving to them too. For arrivals though, if you're coming in under a visa waiver program or similar, you need a Machine Readable Passport –  Gagravarr Sep 3 '11 at 13:04
    
Until earlier this year, I had a non-machine-readable (U.S.) passport. It worked fine. –  nibot Sep 3 '11 at 18:22
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I have a friend who's RFID chip is less than reliable after his passport got heavily stamped due to a 'language barrier' in eastern Europe. When he comes back to the UK on his NZ passport they can't always get it to register so they revert to the bar code and scan three or four of his fingers. –  Stuart Sep 5 '11 at 11:32
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Most likely, the agent will scan the barcode to accomplish the same thing. If that doesn't work, the agent can type in the passport number. I would guess with a faulty RFID, they would be more likely to suspect a fake passport and ask more questions, check baggage, etc.

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Most smart cards have 'passive RFID' chips on them which don't require an on-board power source and thus do not have an actively transmitting antenna. They are usually powered by electromagnetic induction, i.e., placed closed to a reader that powers up the chip. Failure rates, thus, are low for passive RFID chips and more often than not a read failure occurs when the reader isn't able to pick up signals properly due to attenuation (signal weakening due to distance / material obstructions) rather than the chip on card itself failing. Other reasons could include extreme temperature variations that cause chip to contract/expand but operating range on most smart cards can work fine for -20 deg C to 50 deg C range.

TL;DR: There's no easy way to determine whether your card has failed (unless it's physically bent/damaged), but card failure is not THAT big a problem.

Most national ID smart cards also have additional security features such as holograms/watermarks to prevent counterfeits so border officials will still have a way of determining (to an extent) whether it's genuine. Even if one does fail, I'm sure immigration/border control authorities should have procedures in place, similar to those already in place for damaged paper passports.

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yup. I've once had a border guard alert me to damage to my passport I'd not noticed before. Was no problem, he just told me to get it replaced when I got home and wished me a pleasant stay (this was in the US I think, post 9/11 but pre-TSA). You can't see whether the chip is functional, so they can't hold you responsible for it (unless they make a note in it and on next entry months later it's still there maybe). –  jwenting Jan 18 '12 at 6:42
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