DHS approves enhanced tribal ID cards

New identification cards will have tech enhancements

The Homeland Security Department has entered in to agreements with four Native American tribes to produce enhanced identification cards approved for use at U.S. border crossings.

DHS officials announced the most recent agreement with the 28,000-member Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona to develop Enhanced Tribal ID Cards, which will contain radio identification frequency (RFID) microchips and be compliant with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Under the initiative, border patrol officials at land and sea entry points accept only approved forms of identification, including U.S. passports or passport cards, as well as hybrid driver’s licenses/border crossing cards issued by four states and two provinces in cooperation with DHS.

The passport cards and enhanced licenses contain RFID tags that  can be scanned electronically from distances of about 20 feet for fast and easy processing. The Tohono O’odham’s ID cards will feature RFID tags and follow a design similar to the enhanced driver’s licenses, according to a DHS spokesman.

Since January, DHS officials also have signed agreements for enhanced tribal ID cards with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Pascua Yaqui of Arizona and the Seneca Nation of New York, according to a news release. Departmental officials are currently in discussion with about 25 other tribes.

RFID tags in identification cards have raised privacy and security concerns because of the possibility of being scanned by an unauthorized person. To address those concerns, the RFID-enhanced ID cards contain only a series of numbers, which must be matched to a DHS database to obtain personal information.

Washington State, Vermont, Michigan and New York have made similar agreements with the Homeland Security and Department are distributing RFID-enhanced driver’s licenses on a voluntary basis. The Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia also have reached agreements with DHS for enhanced licenses that can be used to enter the United States.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Mon, Nov 9, 2009 Doran Los Angeles

Just because "ID cards contain only a series of numbers" doesn't mean privacy concerns are addressed. My bank account number is "only a series of numbers", same with my driver's license or phone number, for that matter. The number contained on these ID cards is presumably linked to the individual. Once that connection is made, private information will be available to the person with the ID number.

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