Alliance: Pass card deadline impractical

The Homeland Security Department is running out of time to test and deploy a new technology solution in a proposed passport-alternative identification card by summer 2008, according to an industry expert.

"I doubt it is possible to meet the deadline," Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance, told Washington Technology. "Standing up a new technology platform in that time frame is not realistic."

The proposed People Access Security Services cards, or Pass cards, are intended to serve as a low-cost alternative to passports to meet the requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Secretary Michael Chertoff has said that the initiative will be fully in effect by summer of 2008, requiring all travelers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to carry passports, Pass cards or other approved documents.

According to DHS officials, the Pass cards are to have Generation 2 Radio Frequency Identification tags, which originate from the warehousing industry. The tags, which will be embedded on the cards, can be scanned automatically by devices up to 30 feet away. To protect privacy, the RFID tags will broadcast only a reference number, which must be linked with a secure DHS database to obtain personal information on the person to whom the card was issued.

However, use of RFID tags on an identification card is a new application. In a test of a similar concept, Generation 2 RFID tags were applied to identification documents for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology run by DHS. Chertoff declared those tests a failure in February 2007. Too many readers and poor reader placements were resulting in RFID tags being scanned more than once in those tests, industry sources said.

In recent weeks, DHS officials have been promising vendors they will release requirements for the Pass card, but now time is running out to test and produce millions of the cards in time to meet the deadlines, Vanderhoof said.

"The longer DHS delays this, it makes it less possible to meet the WHTI deadline," Vanderhood said.

The alliance is composed of manufacturers of smart cards, which are identification cards using an encryptable type of RFID tag currently placed on U.S. e-passports and other documents.

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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