State unveils plans for PASS card

IT vendors and the general public now will have a clearer view of the State Department's plans for the radio frequency identification device-equipped border crossing card that Uncle Sam plans to deploy as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The department today issued a request for information that describes its plans for the credential and its use in detail, as well as inquiring about the possible costs of equipment needed to produce and field the Passport Cards.

"The Passport Card is intended to be functional in the DHS People Access Security Service (PASS) system, an integrated, automated border-crossing identification system, including programs such as NEXUS, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) and Free and Secure Trade Program (FAST)," State said in its information request document. That passage put the passport card in a clearer context with three trusted-traveler systems that the government already operates at the borders.

That paragraph also, for the first time, drew a subtle distinction between the PASS system and the Passport Card. When Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff and his counterpart at State, Condoleezza Rice, unveiled the PASS Card proposal in January, it appeared to consist of a new type of border credential among the Texas-hold-'em array of border crossing permits.

But now State is referring to the Passport Card as one of several credentials that work along with software, hardware and policy rules to form part of an integrated PASS system.

State plans to conduct an RFI conference for vendors Nov. 17 and to issue a proposal soon after it receives comments on its plans. The department is seeking a firm, fixed-price contract deal to buy the technology for the PASS system.

The RFI specifies that the Passport Card will comply with EPCglobal Class-1 Generation-2 UHF RFID standards.

A detailed description of how State considers that the Passport Cards would function includes the following observations about the advantages of adopting RFID technology, which in some quarters has been a lightning rod for criticism:

"The deployment of RFID-enabled cards provides the following benefits:
  • Traveler-centric rather than vehicle-centric land border entry processing, providing the [Customs and Border Protection] officers with additional real-time data for use in making entry inspection determinations;
  • Additional real-time data for use during vehicle entry inspection will facilitate determining identity, citizenship and admissibility of travelers seeking to enter the U.S.;
  • Additional enforcement tools to the CBP officer, including an automated watch list check upon reading an RFID-enabled Passport Card. Each travel document read will be recorded as a potential entry event to be used in conjunction with other data systems to provide a more complete picture of border crossing activity;
  • Additional information provided to CBP officers to identify travelers who may have assumed identities or citizenship who should be apprehended or detained for law enforcement purposes.

The State document says the Passport Card will allow the government to apply the same level of scrutiny to the Passport Cards as it does to passport books.

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

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