Sen. Clinton calls for full review of passport card

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling for a "rigorous and comprehensive" review of the proposed border-crossing identification card that is an integral part of the Bush Administration's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

The People Access Security Service, or Pass card, is a joint initiative of the Homeland Security and State departments. It is being proposed as an alternative to passports for U.S. citizens, Mexicans and Canadians who frequently cross the borders. Currently, such individuals may display a variety of documents to enter the United States. Fewer than half of the U.S. citizens who visited Canada in 2005 own a passport, Clinton said in a statement that sets forth her position.

In a letter to the State Department, Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the administration has not fully considered the economic impact, data security and privacy concerns of the Pass card. She urged that a cost-benefit analysis be performed before moving forward.

"In imposing new travel restrictions at the border, we must remain sensitive to the profound economic and social impact new restrictions can have on border communities. There is tremendous and legitimate concern that the Initiative would not only devastate the tourism and retail industry, but also greatly disrupt life on both sides of the American-Canadian border. The notice of proposed rulemaking appears to largely neglect these concerns," Clinton wrote.

Clinton said the proposed cost of the card, which is $45 for an adult and $35 for a child, would be burdensome on border communities. What's more, the card has other problems, including the fact that there is no specific turn-around time for issuing the card, no exceptions for the elderly and for schoolchildren and no day passes, Clinton wrote.

Clinton said there also are concerns about privacy with the so-called vicinity read radio frequency identification technology that would be used on the card. The RFID is a tiny computer chip that can be read remotely by a reader. A vicinity read is a reading taken at a distance of many feet to allow for greater convenience and more reads per hour to speed travel and commerce. Critics charge that the vicinity read approach makes it more likely that the chip information might be skimmed by an unauthorized reader.

"State and DHS do not appear to have tested this technology for use in a personal ID card, and a number of industry and privacy groups have voiced serious concerns that the RFID technology gives rise to several privacy and security concerns and that other options are preferable," the senator wrote.

The vicinity read cards have been tested by DHS in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology experimental exit program to check on foreign visitors leaving the country. The readers are mounted about 30 feet over the border-crossing roadway to enable reading of the RFID chips embedded in travel documents issued by the department. To address privacy, DHS said the RFID chips contain only a code, which must be entered into a computer to identify the person to whom the document was issued.

Several industry groups have objected to the vicinity read technology, saying it is not compatible with identification management. And several representatives of the smart card industry say their card technology, which uses RFID chips that must be read at a distance no more than a few inches, is more suitable for the Pass 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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