Packet Rat: Inch by inch, the Rat gets back over the border

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

The Rat family's quest for a broadband break took them north to Niagara Falls. At the foot of the American Falls, among squawking gulls, the whiskered one found a wireless dead spot and a good place to watch the Rainbow Bridge between Canada and the United States.

The traffic seemed clear enough headed north, but return traffic moved at a crawl. The wait that day, he heard, was more than four hours. Security delays at the border have reportedly cost the Canadian economy about $5 billion a year.

It could get worse. The Homeland Security Department plans to add border crossings to the U.S. Visit photo and fingerprint-scanning initiative. That will slow things down even more, even though Canucks and Yanks are exempt from the scans, which concentrate on visa entrants.

'Talk about latency,' the cyberrodent sighed. And the possibility of obtaining 'frequent border crosser' cards with radio frequency identification, similar to the EZ-Pass used by some toll systems, hasn't reduced concerns about sluggish transit, considering that few people are likely to get express credentials.

The Rat would sooner go over the falls in a barrel than travel abroad with his family again anytime soon. Even a jaunt to the wax museum on the Canadian side of the falls demanded passports and supporting documentation for the ratlings. That trip used to require only a driver's license and a promise not to bring back too much Labatt's beer.

Besides, given his hirsute nature, the furry one might find himself quarantined for a few weeks awaiting a veterinary screening to get back home. Let's face it, paw prints just don't scan well.

The Rat isn't the only one uneasy about documentation. The State Department has asked the Senate to extend the deadline for so-called visa waiver countries to institute biometric features in machine-readable passports. That will affect about 13 million visitors per year and is bound to draw some of the same retaliation that accompanied the beginning of U.S. Visit, such as fingerprinting of Americans by Brazil.

Citing the economic damage that might result from putting the rules into effect this October, State requested at least two more years.

The department hasn't even fully tested its own RFID passports yet. But the Senate Judiciary Committee approved only a one-year extension, forestalling travel pains for the moment while guaranteeing future discomfort.

The delay applies only to the biometric element, not to the machine-readable passport requirement. Citizens of countries without machine-readable passports will have to apply for visas. The whiskered one's Foreign Service buddies have been moaning about the impending wave of visa processing.

Given the iffy nature of a lot of biometric authentication technology, the Rat isn't holding his breath. Not that it isn't a good idea to hold one's breath and duck when surrounded by several thousand seagulls.

'Niagara Falls? Sloooooooowly I turned,' recited the bare-tailed Three Stooges aficionado for the umpteenth time that day, much to his wife's disgust.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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