Michigan gets DHS approval to issue border card

Michigan state officials on Monday signed an agreement with the U.S. Homeland Security Department to authorize enhanced driver's licenses that can be used for identification in lieu of passports at U.S. land and sea borders.

Michigan’s secretary of state expects to begin accepting applications for the new license next year from Michigan residents who are U.S. citizens only.

Two other states, Washington state and New York, began issuing similar hybrid drivers licenses earlier this year in cooperation with DHS in anticipation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which goes into effect in June 2009. Under the initiative, all travelers across U.S. borders must show approved documents from a limited list; in the past, thousands of documents were permissible.

British Columbia in Canada also began offering hybrid driver's licenses this year, and Arizona, Vermont, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are expected to follow.

New York’s and Washington’s enhanced licenses have radio frequency identification chips that can be read remotely at the border at distances of 20 to 30 feet. To protect privacy, the chips transmit a reference number that must be matched with a DHS database to obtain personal information. It was not immediately clear if Michigan’s license would utilize the same technology.

Michigan officials said the new cards offer convenience for drivers and are intended to help keep cross-border commerce flowing smoothly.

"This is a victory for Michigan families and job providers," said Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in a news release. "It offers motorists an affordable, single-document option that meets their driving and border-crossing needs. Equally important, it allows commerce between Michigan and Canada to continue uninterrupted.”

The Michigan state legislature voted in February 2008 to authorize the new cards.

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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