The government assured Lok Sabha on Friday that e-passports would only be launched after ensuring the effectiveness of its data security functions. Sample tests of the proposed e-passports are being carried out to ensure they are secure, Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said while answering questions from House Members.
“We are aware of the danger of skimming vulnerability. In fact, this is one of the reasons sample passports are tested to ensure (that they are safe). Until we are sure that the danger of skimming is properly dealt with, of course we will not move forward. But, we have every confidence,” the minister said during question time.
Congressman Shashi Tharoor had asked the government what steps were being taken before the launch of e-passports to ensure the security of passport holder data.
Raising concerns about the data security of holders of ePassports, which will be accompanied by a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, Tharoor pointed out that several global studies have indicated that anyone can browse and copy RFID tag data.
“The average citizen will find the passport data more integral and more secure than it would otherwise be,” the minister said in response to a related question posed by fellow congressman, MP Raghavan.
The minister reacted strongly after DMK member Dayanidhi Maran, while asking a supplementary question, said that the government claimed that immigration would become smooth after the launch of the electronic passport, but “the irony is that everywhere Indian passport holders, they are treated as third-class citizens, especially in our own country”.
The DMK chief said that special counters for immigration have been set up for citizens in many countries like the UAE and Malaysia, but “in India we are forced to wait and do the tail, looking like criminals”.
Reacting to Maran’s remarks, the Minister said: “I think the MP’s description of the situation at airports is completely unfair. what happens in the other counters.”
“I think all members should be fair enough to recognize that airport processes have improved. There are a lot more counters today. There is room for improvement at the airport and BOI counters ( immigration office)… but please don’t give it such a radically negative characterization. It’s not fair… I blame myself. I think it’s totally unjustified “, added the Minister.
Jaishankar said the aim of issuing e-passports is to make the travel of passport holders “easier and smoother”, and also to provide “better security” of their data.
“The e-passport contains both the data and a sheet like a regular passport. In terms of data security, the data is put into the chip through a personalization process,” he said.
He said e-passports will have “multiple layers” of security. It will have a digital signature “which will be sent to other governments for verification”.
Also, there will be other digital keys that will verify the passport at every stage – when the chip is made, the inlay is done, the passport office loads the data, the embassy loads the data, and when the passport is made.
“We’re testing it to be secure,” he said.
He told the Lower House that letters of intent had been issued to procure five crore chips and an antenna.
“We anticipate that once we award the contract, which will take a bit of time, within six months we will be in the process of delivering the passport. We will do so in this fiscal year,” he said. -he adds.
The minister said passport issuance will become faster once e-passports are launched and “routinized”.
“We are confident that we can maintain the same schedule and the same speed,” he added.