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I often see passport pouches for sale, which supposedly prevent your passport RFID from being read. In what scenario that might happen? Should travelers be concerned about protecting their passports, or is this a way for companies to sell more stuff?

(I have a US passport, but I think people from other countries might be curious about this as well.)

  • 1
    My passport came with a note claiming that simply keeping the cover closed will accomplish this. I don't know how effective that actually is. – Nate Eldredge Jul 29 '16 at 5:30
  • Even if the RFID can be read, it cannot be decoded without the information from the machine-readable section of the data page. – Michael Hampton Jul 29 '16 at 5:59
  • Isn't the concern more around tracking? That, even though the data is encrypted, someone with sufficiently powerful RFID readers might be able to track people's movements by using the unique string of data returned by the chip as a unique identifier? – Zach Lipton Jul 29 '16 at 6:49
  • My passport is easily read by my old phone when closed (I don't think I've tried with it open), so don't rely on that. Tracking is one concern where the encryption is useless, the unique id is given unencrypted. – Henrik - stop hurting Monica Jul 29 '16 at 6:57
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    @hippietrail I don't have all the details in front of me, but yes, as I recall, the early biometric passports were pretty weak. Given that they are usually valid for 10 years, some of them are still out there. – Michael Hampton Jul 29 '16 at 8:47
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You did not specify the country of your passport, so it might be different for non-US passports.

For the USA passport, according to Department of State ("Will someone be able to read or access the information on the chip without my knowledge (also known as skimming or eavesdropping)?" question), closing it is enough to prevent reading its data:

We use an embedded metallic element in our passports. One of the simplest measures for preventing unauthorized reading of e-passports is to add RF blocking material to the cover of an e-passport. A passport has to be physically opened before it can be read. It is a simple and effective method for reducing the opportunity for unauthorized reading of the passport.

So at least for the US passports, that's a way for the companies to sell more stuff.

You can also verify it yourself if you have an Android phone with NFC reader (most modern Samsung phones do). Just install something like NFC Tag, and try to read your passport.

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    There are actual passport-reading apps out there, as well, which will decode and authenticate the data stored on the chip. At least one is free. (It's a demo app for the company to sell equipment to national governments.) – Michael Hampton Jul 30 '16 at 0:31
  • All those apps should require you entering some data from the passport; if you find any which can read passport data without you typing in anything (such as expiration date), please let the world know! – George Y. Jul 30 '16 at 0:35
  • The app I mentioned scans the machine-readable data page with the phone's camera. – Michael Hampton Jul 30 '16 at 0:36
  • Thank you. So it still needs this data to decode the passport chip. – George Y. Jul 30 '16 at 0:58
  • Of course. You can't decode the data on the chip without that data. – Michael Hampton Jul 30 '16 at 3:07

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