Comingsand goings to be monitored by radio tags

Published on Thu, Jun 9, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Comings and goings to be monitored by radio tags

By Jack Kintner

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be testing US Visit, an automated entry-exit system at both border crossings in Blaine beginning August 1, and the first thing that the official in charge of the test, P.T. Wright, wants you to know is, “Nothing will change.”

Wright, director of mission operations brought a team of people from Washington, D.C. to meet with area businesses and individuals last week in Bellingham.

“This is a test of a technology only,” he reassured the 40 people who showed up for the meeting, “and doesn’t change anything about how you cross the border for the next couple of years. Most people won’t even notice something is going on.”

The test is designed as a proof-of-concept for a technology that will allow border inspectors to read up to 55 passports and equivalent documents per vehicle remotely at land crossings without slowing the vehicle to facilitate the flow of what’s called “legitimate low-risk cross-border traffic.” Wright said that DHS is working with the state department to design “a system that will recognize compliant, low-risk travelers and allow them to pass through quickly while still recognizing terrorists, anyone with a current warrant issued by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), pedophiles or major immigration violators.”

This all points to January 1, 2008, when everyone entering the country will be required to have a passport “or other suitable identification” capable of being read by radio frequency identification (RFID), much as a NEXUS card is now.

RFID will also allow CBP inspectors to monitor people as they leave the country without having to stop them. Currently, there are exit procedures in place under the US-VISIT program at 12 major airports (none of which are in the northwest), and planned for all “airports and seaports system wide,” Wright said, “but RFID will eliminate the need for people to be stopped on the way out of the country, as long as they have the document with them in the car.”

Currently, only 23 percent of Americans have passports, though by next year they will include the RFID chip. One issue, Wright said, is cost, since all travelers will be required to have a passport or its equivalent, including infants. Currently, it costs $67 to renew a U.S. passport, and $97 for an adult to obtain one for the first time. If the applicant is under 16, the price drops to $82. Alternatives such as birth certificates are being explored during the testing period, Wright said.

The test will be done in two phases beginning August first, when Wright’s team will return to the area to kick it off. An evaluation is scheduled for the spring and a second testing phase begins in the summer of 2006.

Several websites have more information: www.travel.state.gov for information on passports; www.unitedstatesvisas.gov for information on visa requirements for Canadian citizens; www.tsa.gov for the Transportation Security Department, to correct mistakes in the system such as incorrect information about an applicant.