New Passports to Contain Data Electronically

The United States will begin issuing electronic passports (search) in December to help tighten border and identity security, the State Department said Tuesday.

A computer chip will be embedded in passport covers and will hold the same information that is written on the inside: name, date of birth, gender, place of birth, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number and a photo. The chip will also have a unique digital signature designed to protect the data from tampering.

The chips will have technology to prevent unauthorized reading, or "skimming," of the data.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search) had suggested that fingerprinting technology be used in the high-tech passports, but that was not included.

By October 2006, all U.S. passport agencies will issue the electronic passports.