DHS: E-passport live test a success

The Homeland Security Department has successfully tested e-passports in a live environment, the department’s second in command announced today.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program tested e-passports and e-passport readers at San Francisco International Airport from Jan. 15 to April 15, said Michael Jackson, DHS’ deputy secretary, in a statement.

The test processed 1,938 e-passports. The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore participated.

The success bodes well for DHS’ ability to meet its Oct. 26 deadline for starting the use of e-passports, officials said.

From that point on, all travelers from the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program who are issued passports must have e-passports to enter the United States, officials said. The program eliminates the need for travel visas.

The e-passports contain digital photos and electronic chips that store biometric information. The chips use contactless radio-frequency identification technology to share their contents with the readers.

The test included Basic Access Control technology, which improves passenger privacy by preventing unauthorized people from skimming information from the chip, officials said. It also helps prevent the use of stolen and fraudulent travel documents.

Basic Access Control adds two extra security elements to e-passports, said Kimberly Weissman, a US-VISIT spokeswoman. It adds a metallic security shield over the chip to prevent unauthorized people from reading the chip’s contents. The chip sets up an encrypted channel between it and the reader so that only the reader can decrypt the chip’s information, Weissman said. The information lies encrypted and protected on the chip at all other times.

The United States, Australia and New Zealand conducted a similar test at Los Angeles International Airport and Sydney Airport last year.

The State Department started issuing diplomatic e-passports in March and is scheduled to start issuing e-passports for citizens this summer.

The 27 visa-waiver countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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