US-VISIT chief wants tougher border security

The head of the country’s program to weed out terrorists from foreign visitors laid out his wish list today of the security features he would like to see in proposed new documents for U.S. travelers.

The People Access Security Service (PASS) card would be an alternative to a passport as a secure identity document for U.S. travelers returning from Canada or Mexico, said Jim Williams, director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program. He spoke at the Smart Card Alliance’s 5th Annual Smart Cards in Government Conference in Arlington, Va.

Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last January that DHS and the State Department will create PASS cards as part of their Open Doors, Secure Borders plan.

The PASS card will meet the requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires that by Jan. 1, 2008, anyone entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, have travel documents that prove their identity and citizenship.

Williams said he would want border guards to be able to read PASS cards from 30 feet away through radio frequency identification chips embedded in the cards.

If that were done, the PASS system would automatically screen the cardbearers against criminal watch lists and put the information on the border guard’s screen by the time the vehicle got to the station, Williams said.

US-VISIT has done many trials using RFID technology in its NEXUS trusted traveler program with Canada, Williams said.

He said he also believes drivers should be required to provide a biometric means of identification, such as a thumbprint or iris scan, when they reach a border crossing. Unfortunately, industry has not yet produced a system that could be installed at the crossing stations, he said.

If it did, Williams added, “Shoot, we’d take that now. I would.”

State and DHS have not yet decided which technology the PASS card will use, Williams said.

A decision must be made soon so State can issue a request for proposals and industry can start production by the end of this year or the beginning of 2007, he said.

Williams said he met today with Chertoff and Chertoff’s Canadian counterpart to discuss PASS card technology.

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