Chip supplier INSIDE Contactless, headquartered in Aix-en-Provence, France, and FASVER, a French supplier of security films used in passports and other documents, last year got together to create a new way of producing passports, one that is extremely fraud- and counterfeit-proof.
Called smartFilm™, it is designed to protect biodata on official documents, and is simply a thin layer of film containing a printed antenna and a contactless chip. The chip stores the individual’s data and biometrics, such as a photo and fingerprint. The document can then be read by a contactless reader system to authenticate the chip and its data, thus verifying the person’s identity.
The terrorist attacks in New York City Sept. 11, 2001 changed the way the world looked at security. Driven by a whole new set of rules for gaining entrance into the U.S., manufacturers of passports and visas have had to change the way they do business; that is if they want to produce travel documents acceptable to the U.S.
“9-11 speeded up the need of the U.S. and all countries in Europe to raise the level of security for passports, visas and ID cards,” said Bernard Vian, marketing manager for INSIDE Contactless. “The United States passed the U.S. Patriot Act that said that all visa-waiver countries would have to provide biometrics on passports. Otherwise, people would have to apply for a visa. This was the trigger that raised the interest of all countries to push for more secure IDs and passports involving biometrics.”
“All the various technologies were evaluated,” he added, “and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) decided that the IC chip was the most appropriate for biometrics. That was the beginning.”
Next was deciding how to integrate a chip into a passport. “ICAO did not specify how the chip was to be integrated,” said Mr. Vian.
Enter smartFilm. “We thought of a solution that consisted of putting a chip in a security film. FASVER, a French firm, supplies the film,” said Mr. Vian. “It is applied on the face of the passport where your picture ID is. On this is a very thin film, extremely difficult to duplicate and almost impossible to remove.”
The two companies “mixed our expertise,” Mr. Vian added. “The film carries the chip, which is why we call it smartFilm. FASVER prints an antenna on the film with a very special conductive ink.” The multi-layered and very thin film (about 30 microns) also contains an antenna.
“What is unique about this process,” said Mr. Vian, “is that the chip has no physical connection with the antenna printed on the film. Because there is no connection, you limit the risk of breakage. Today, this is the only solution using the film to carry the chip and the only solution using a chip without a physical connection.”
It works the same way as a reader communicating with a contactless chip. “The connection is possible because the chip itself contains a micro antenna, enough for making a communication between the antenna on the film and the antenna on the chip (inductive coupling),” said Mr. Vian.
Let’s face it, passports do come in for some rough handling, from stuffing it into a rear pants pocket to the hand stamp delivered by border control personnel.
“SmartFilm is great because there is no breakage after stamping the passport very much and very hard,” said Geraldine Miallet, who handles public relations for INSIDE Contactless. “There are no true connections to be broken.”
Added Mr. Vian: “SmartFilm is designed for the ID world, for any document that needs to carry information that cannot change, that you cannot remove. It’s very unique, it’s extremely secure; it is tamper proof. You cannot remove the security film from the device without interrupting the connection.” Thus, it cannot be removed from one passport or document and placed on another.
According to Mr. Vian, there are two countries considering the use of smartFilm but nothing has been nailed down yet. He added that there is no country today, with the exception of Malaysia, offering an electronic passport with a chip.
SmartFilm works best on paper documents (like visas and passports) which is why it wouldn’t be feasible for other types of ID cards made of plastic, like the upcoming Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
But it is also “why we raised a lot of interest among passport manufacturers. They don’t have to change their existing passports or materials. Everything they are doing remains the same. They apply the smartFilm the same way they’ve supplied security film (like the films traditionally produced by FASVER) for years.”
He estimates smartFilm would add about U.S.$1.50 to $2 to the cost of a passport or visa. That’s nominal, even when talking about temporary visas that may be good for just a couple of months.
“The visa is something you pay up to $100 for. The extra cost is still minimal,” he said.
Temporary visas, and the fact there could be many within the same passport, raises another issue.
Mr. Vian commented: “To cancel the visa we are considering a pull off corner of the tag that would remove a part of the antenna, rendering the tag unreadable. Alternatively, we could use the anti-collision features of the ISO 14443 protocol, but many tags placed on pages right next to each other could still cause problems due to coupling between antennas that are touching (virtually).”
The smartFilm product received the prestigious SESAME award as 2003’s Best Application in IT Security. The product is also receiving a great deal of international attention from entities responsible for the provision of secure travel documents. With the pressure to meet U.S. imposed deadlines for biometric passports continuing to rise, expect this attention to escalate to implementation in the very near future.
Visit INSIDE Contactless’ on the web at www.insidecontactless.com.
Visit FASVER on the web at www.fasver.com.
To download a white paper on the smartFilm technology, click here.