ID card industry casts hook for DHS work

Executives at identification card companies are intensifying their push for alternative technologies for the Homeland Security Department's upcoming requirements for border crossing cards and drivers' licenses.

Representatives of the laser card and "smart card" industries told lawmakers on Oct. 18 that their products offer unique benefits and avoid shortcomings of the formats proposed by DHS for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative border-crossing card and the Real ID Act of 2005 driver's license standard.

For the WHTI border crossing card, also known as the Pass card, DHS officials have said they intend to use long-distance radio frequency identification tags that can be read at 20 feet. A similar RFID tag is to be used in the hybrid WHTI-Real ID act identification card to be issued in three border states.

Yet deploying cards with RFID tags will require a huge infrastructure investment in readers to scan the tags. To avoid that expense and inconvenience, Kathryn K. Alsbrooks, director of federal programs for LaserCard Corp. of Mountain View, Calif., testified that laser cards provide a highly secure card with automatic biometric identification that permits easy visual identification and does not require a reader.

"The implementation of a governmentwide infrastructure to authenticate and read an ID card is an enormous undertaking," Alsbrooks told the House Government Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management. "Given that issuance of new ID cards to millions of cardholders will take years, visual inspection will remain with us at least in the interim."

Furthermore, more than 80 percent of the foreign visitors to U.S. land borders are already carrying a laser card, Alsbrooks said. More than 30 million laser cards have been deployed to date in programs including the U.S. Permanent Resident "Green card" issued by DHS, the "Laser visa" border crossing card issued by the State Department to Mexican citizens and the Canadian Permanent Resident Card issued by Canadian authorities.

Similarly, Neville Pattinson, vice president of Gemalto Inc. and a spokesman for the Secure ID Coalition, an industry group representing makers of smart cards and other ID card technologies, urged DHS and Congress to put privacy and data security as the highest priorities in identification programs such as Real ID and the WHTI card.

Smart cards, which use an RFID tag that must be read at close distances of inches, satisfy those requirements because they were designed to allow for encryption and other strong protections of privacy and security, he said.

"Whatever method used in a secure smart ID card the underlying security ensures both electronic document authentication and user authentication before transacting any credential information," Pattinson said. "No other technology can offer all these features in a cost effective and convenient manner to ensure identity security and authentication."

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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