Senate panel votes to delay Pass card

The Homeland Security Department's controversial Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative would be postponed for 17 months to June 1, 2009, under an amendment adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee today in two separate pieces of legislation.

The amendment, authored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), is similar to a provision they included in the immigration reform bill last month. However, since the future of that legislation is uncertain, Leahy and Stevens worked to add a similar provision in the Homeland Security and State departments appropriations bills for fiscal 2007 that were approved by the Senate committee today.

The travel initiative is "a train wreck on the horizon," Leahy said in a news release today. "It will be far easier and less harmful to fix these problems before this system goes into effect than to have to mop up the mess afterward."

The travel initiative applies to Americans, Canadians, Mexicans and others who cross U.S. land borders regularly. It requires that individuals crossing the borders must carry either a passport or a new form of identification, termed the People Access Security Services (Pass) card, by Jan. 1, 2008. Border community officials have complained it will be onerous and disrupt travel and commerce. Currently, Canadians entering the United States may show a birth certificate or any of several other documents to gain entry.

Also included in the Leahy-Stevens amendment are several provisions pertaining to the technology to be used in the cards.

The State and Homeland Security departments have not agreed on which type of radio frequency identification technology is appropriate for the Pass card. State favors a contactless "smart card" with a short-range RFID chip and privacy protections, while DHS prefers an ultra-high-frequency form of RFID that allows many cards to be read simultaneously at distances of up to 50 feet. Privacy advocates have complained that the long-distance RFID is not designed to protect privacy securely.

The amendment requires that State and DHS agree on a technology and that the technology meets certain security standards, among other provisions.

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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