The first US passports were simple pieces of paper. Times have changed, and today’s passports rely on cutting-edge technology to protect against forgery. While most of that technology is top-secret, here are four elements that distinguish a real passport from a fake.
Put your passport under a black light and prepare to be amazed, as special fluorescent ink creates glowing patterns across the pages. While this makes for a cool party trick, the UV-reactive ink is actually a security feature. According to a recent article in Gizmodo, your passport is printed using a variety of specialized inks with properties that are difficult for forgers to duplicate. As another example, some text is printed in ink that changes colors as you move it. And that’s only the beginning: some inks change color when exposed to extreme temperatures or disappear altogether if the passport is tampered with!
If you hold your passport up to the light and flip through the pages, you’ll notice shimmering holographic overlays that cannot be duplicated without a special machine. These are holograms, and the machines used to create them are difficult (though not impossible) to get a hold of.
Even with all of this technology, the most difficult aspect of a passport to forge is one of the most basic: the font. While the outside cover of the passport is printed in Garamond Italic, much of what’s inside is printed in special security fonts, with forgery-resistant features like tiny bleeds, bumps and other imperfections. In the background, security text is printed in a font so tiny, you can’t read it without a magnifying glass. Even smaller nano-printed text on passports is virtually impossible for forgers to copy. Each letter is smaller than a cell in your body and can only be read through a microscope.
The most controversial passport security feature is the electronic chip embedded inside. The chip contains your personal biodata and a copy of your photo, and is readable using radio-frequency identification (RFID). Security personnel can read the chip to make sure that the data encoded on it matches what’s printed on the passport. To address privacy concerns, your passport cover is made from an RFID-blocking material, so the data on the chip can only be read if your passport is open. Despite these precautions, some privacy advocates still find the technology troubling.
That said, in addition to improving passport security, the RFID chip also has the potential to streamline the process of entering and leaving the country, according to Michael Holly, the Senior Advisor for the International Affairs for Passport Services. In an interview on Officer.com, Holly explained how this could work:
“Instead of waiting 30, 40 minutes or even an hour or more to see an inspector, the traveler can place his passport in a kiosk, and during the process it would only take 10, 15 seconds or less. A machine within the kiosk reads the chip, takes a photo of the person or takes fingerprints and compares with the chip data and the digital signature. As this happens the PKI that protects the chip data is checked, the passport is authenticated and checked against INTERPOL—the initial law enforcement entity—and inspectors can see whether that document has been reported lost or stolen—all in one seamless motion. One inspector can oversee six kiosks, and then you have five inspectors free to do other things like pay attention to high-risk travelers.”
Getting a US Passport
With so much effort going into passport security features, it should be no surprise that the government makes you jump through some hoops to get one. The passport application process can be intimidating and time-consuming. Regular service takes six to eight weeks. If you’re on a tight schedule, consider using an expediting service like RushMyPassport. We walk you through the application process with clear instructions and helpful checklists to ensure that nothing is forgotten. Then, we hand-deliver your application to the State Department for processing in as little as 24 hours.
Applying for a new passport? Short on time? Let us help!