The US Department of State has confirmed to SDW that it will start rolling out ePassports from the Denver Passport Agency in the week of 14 August 2006.
A spokesperson for the department told SDW: “The Denver Passport Agency issues about 4000 passports per week. Denver has a well-trained and very productive staff and is the right size agency for the ePassport books that are to be produced out of the Government Printing Office (GPO) initially. Other facilities will start as production levels out of GPO are satisfied (that is producing old books and new books at the same time in order to continue to meet the 13 million a year demand). The Special Issuance Agency in Washington, DC will be the next to transition exclusively to ePassport production.”
The blank ePassport books will be produced by the GPO. The Department of State has also confirmed that the chip, antenna and inlay components will be supplied by Infineon and Gemalto. “Infineon is providing chips, antennas and inlays used in current US ePassport production [Diplomatic and official ePassports that are already being issued]. Gemalto has qualified to provide samples for further, pilot production.” They are the only firms left in the competition at this time,” the spokesperson told SDW.
The announcement of the suppliers follows a lengthy procurement process, which saw initial testing contracts awarded to Axalto, Infineon Technologies North America, Bearing Point/SuperCom and SuperCom in October 2004. ASK Contactless Technologies, Electronic Data Systems, Oberthur Card Systems and OTI America were awarded testing contracts in January 2005.
OTI issued a statement at the end of July to say that the GPO had eliminated it from the group of vendors being considered for the ePassport programme. It also announced it intended to appeal the decision.
Gemalto’s ePassport technology includes the company’s operating system software running in a large capacity contactless microprocessor chip. The chip is embedded in a module and is then integrated into the passport booklet cover. Although the supplier of Gemalto’s contactless chips has not been officially announced, the chips are believed to have been supplied by Philips, in a similar process to other ePassport contracts around the world involving Gemalto technology.
“Each e-passport contains an integrated circuit chip with a storage capacity of 64KB that operates consistent with ISO standards 14443A or B,” says the Department of State spokesperson. “This is greater than the ICAO specification of 32KB to permit adequate storage in case the US decides to include additional data in the future. Currently, the chip contains only the data on the passport’s data page, including a high-quality photo. The chip and the antenna are located in the back cover of the passport. The data page is moved from the inside front cover (in the current passport) to the 3rd page.”
The ePassports will be US$97. “We started issuing a security surcharge in March 2005,” says the spokesperson. “This was established to go towards the rollout of ePassports, so there is no further price increase today.”