Vermont to join hybrid ID program

The state of Vermont has forged an agreement with the Homeland Security Department to launch a hybrid identification card that combines a driver's license with a border-crossing card.

Following the lead of Washington State, Vermont intends to become the second border state to produce an enhanced driver's license that potentially will serve as an acceptable document for crossing U.S. borders under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Under the travel initiative, U.S. citizens, Canadians and Mexicans crossing the land borders will need to show either a passport or a DHS-approved border-crossing card, among other requirements for sea, land and air borders, to take effect at an unspecified date in summer 2008.

In the past, thousands of documents, such as birth certificates, were accepted for crossing the U.S. land borders. An interim requirement for U.S. citizens and Canadians to display either a passport or specific other documents, such as a driver's license with birth certificate, is going into effect on Jan. 31, 2008, DHS said in a news release.

Under Vermont's plans, the enhanced driver's license will be available to volunteers who apply and provide proof of citizenship, identity and residence, and it will be slightly more expensive than a regular driver's license.

The Vermont enhanced license will contain security features similar to a U.S. passport, according to the DHS news release. The U.S. electronic passport uses a computer chip that can transmit encrypted data, to protect privacy, and must be scanned at close distances of a few inches. But those features will not necessarily be used for the Vermont driver's license/border crossing card, said DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner.

Furthermore, DHS has not determined whether the Vermont passport will be using the same radio frequency identification tag technology as in Washington State's hybrid driver's license/border crossing card, Keenher said.

Washington State officials have said they will place on the cards Generation 2 RFID tags that can be scanned at 30 feet. Critics also contend those types of RFID tags cannot be encrypted and can be easily cloned. To protect privacy, DHS and Washington State have said the RFID tag will transmit wirelessly only a reference number, which must be matched to a database to obtain personal information. DHS is planning to use a similar technology in its People Access Security Services identification card to be created for people who frequently cross the borders.

For Vermont, the technology decisions for the identification card are not yet final, Keehner said. "We are still determining the technology," she said. "We are working together to finalize those details."

Secretary Chertoff praised Vermont's efforts in agreeing to the hybrid card. "This partnership helps us strike the right balance between security and facilitation, incorporating 21st century technology and innovation," he said in a statement.

"I'm pleased we will be able to provide this more reasonable option for Vermonters who travel frequently to Canada," Vermont Governor Jim Douglas said in a statement. "As we move forward with this innovative project, we must continue to include our northern neighbors whose economic and security interests are linked directly to our own."

The Western Hemisphere initiative was approved by Congress as part of the intelligence reform bill of 2004. DHS has developed the details for implementing the initiative.

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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