State poised to begin issuing PASS cards to citizens

The State Department is planning a procurement to support issuing identity cards to citizens that they will be able to use in lieu of passports when they enter the country to meet pending requirements that all border crossers bring suitable documents. State could begin seeking a vendor for the project later this year to begin the process of issuing millions of PASS cards to citizens.

PASS stands for People Access Security Service. Officials announced the program in a joint press conference with secretaries Condoleezza Rice of State and Michael Chertoff of DHS on Jan. 17. The intelligence reform act passed last year requires that people crossing the border, including citizens, provide proper identification as of Jan. 1, 2008.

Under current policy, millions of citizens enter the country every year with no documents at all, officials said.

"We do plan to issue the card this year," said State spokeswoman Laura Tischler, who allowed that that the process likely would involve establishing contracts with vendors to provide the cards. Issuing the cards will involve an enrollment process and then the production of secure cards.

"RFID [radio frequency identification device] technology is being considered in the discussions we are having with DHS about the card," Tischler said. "Having been through the process of developing the E-Passport [which includes secure RFID technology], we are bringing the experience gained in that process to the PASS program."

Jim Williams, director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, told a meeting of the Industry Advisory Council last night that State and DHS soon would agree on developing the PASS card technology plan.

Williams said he expects that State will issue a request for proposals by the end of the year for card production.

RFID security is one of the issues that State and DHS are discussing. "There are concerns [at State] about using RFID on a mandatory basis," Williams said. "We think it [RFID] is the right answer. State has concerns about RFID?that the privacy [advocates] may not like it." He added that State had been "a fantastic partner" in the process.

In response to an earlier question at last night's IAC meeting, Williams strongly endorsed RFID technology, noting that it allows US VISIT systems to achieve three functions quickly: recording a traveler's entry, populating border officials' workstations with information about the traveler and conducting a quick watch list check.

"If I could push a button, there would be RFID technology at every land border crossing," Williams said.

DHS already uses RFID in some pilot tests of technology for general travelers and uses it for some of its trusted traveler systems that speed the entry of pre-screened vehicles and travelers.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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