More than 380,000 passport cards issued

More than 380,000 Americans have been issued new U.S. Passport Card identification cards being produced by the State Department, a spokesman said today.

The department, in cooperation with the Homeland Security Department, began producing and distributing the wallet-sized identification card last month. The card is designed primarily for people living close to the land borders and for cruise ship passengers. The cards are being produced by L-1 Identity Solutions Inc. under two contracts with a total estimated value of $230 million.

To date, 480,000 people have submitted advance-order applications for the passport card, and 382,000 cards have been issued, said Steven Royster, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

“We are pleased we have worked through the advance orders so quickly,” Royster said.

The card may be displayed instead of a United States passport when crossing a U.S. land border or at seaports for travel to the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The card is not valid for international air travel.

The card contains a radio frequency identification tag with a reference number. The reference number can be read wirelessly from up to 20 feet to 30 feet by approved reading devices that are being installed at border ports. The reference number can be used to access DHS secure databases to review personal information and a photographic image of the card holder.

The RFID technology has been controversial because of the potential loss of privacy from unauthorized reading of the RFID tags. “These insecure chips, containing traveler data, could be read from long distances by anyone, without the cardholder's knowledge or consent, and could be used to track and profile the movements and activities of innocent Americans,” according to a statement from the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Royster said privacy was not at risk because the only information on the RFID tag is a reference number. The passport card also is being issued with a metal sleeve that safeguards against emission of radio waves when the card is not in use.

Starting in June 2009, all travelers crossing the U.S. borders will be required to present an identification document that complies with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The approved documents include U.S. passports and U.S. passport cards.

The State Department began accepting advance applications for the passport card in February. Beginning in October, the department said, it expects applicants to experience a wait time of four weeks for the passport card.

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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