GAO raps e-passport use

Although the United States began issuing electronic passports to U.S. citizens last October, very few of the nation's airports or land and sea ports are using them as they should, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The new electronic passports, which contain an embedded Radio Frequency Identification chip, are more secure than the previous passports, the GAO said. But the Department of Homeland Security has not yet provided most ports of entry with the technology tools needed to read the data, according to the GAO. Furthermore, many employees at those entry points lack the training they need to understand and electronically read the passports, according to the report.

Currently, 33 out of 116 airports are equipped with readers to scan e-passports, the GAO said. Those 33 airports process 97 percent of the incoming foreign visitors from countries for which no visas are required, so airport personnel use the readers to scan the foreign-issued e-passports and not those issued to U.S. citizens, the GAO said.

In fact, e-passports issued to U.S. citizens are almost never scanned, the GAO said. The readers are not available at 83 airports and not designated for U.S. citizen inspection at the other 33.

The Customs and Border Patrol bureau has no schedule for installing additional passport readers and indicated that more funding and advances in software technology for the readers are needed, the GAO said.

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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