PASS ON THE PASSPORT Hackers have penetrated the U.S. Department of Defense, the International Space Station, Microsoft and Citibank, to name but a few of the well-guarded systems unable to keep these renegade programmers at bay. The U.S. government will soon require all new passports to store our most important identity information on a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that can be read from up to 30 feet away. Are you familiar with FasTrak, the electronic toll collection units Bay Area folks use to automatically pay tolls; the little white box affixed to the insides of their windshields? Same, same.

CHIP IN YOUR SHOULDER? RFID technology has been around for some time. These chips currently track household pets, beer kegs, Canadian cattle, library books, airline baggage and retail store merchandise. The American Express Blue card and Smart Key/Smart Start systems in Lexuses and Toyota Priuses use RFID chips. Prisoners in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and California wear wristwatch RFID sensors. VIP customers at the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, have had rice-sized RFID chips implanted in their hands or arms for identification and to pay for drinks. Roughly 1,000 chips had been inserted into humans as of late July 2005.

HACK ATTACK A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University and RSA laboratories hacked a Texas Instruments RFID chip that is currently installed in more than 150 million car keys around the country. They did it with just a few hundred dollars’ worth of equipment.

The government claims the passports will be readable only when their protective covers are opened, but I’ve got trust issues. Without getting too political, this government doesn’t have the best track record to date.

RFID chips in grocery store items have been hacked using hand-held devices to change their prices, and Dutch researchers claim to have developed a virus that can spread from RFID chips to databases.

With more than one million Californians falling victim to identity fraud each year, and the inevitability that a hacker will conquer any digital security system developed, it doesn’t make sense that we are rushing to install RFID chips in all new U.S. passports starting in October 2006.

WIRELESS IN CHICO Woodstock’s Pizza (166 E. 2nd Street) and the Argyll Medical Group join Teaz Me, Coco Caffé and Café Paulo in offering Chicoans free Wi-Fi. Patronize these establishments and thank them for providing us with free access. Happy 30th birthday, Apple (April 1, no joke).,,,,aid,119661,00.asp,,