Database merger propels trusted traveler programs

DHS prepares to expand northern border credential

"We have now one single integrated database. If you are a Nexus card holder you can use it at any of 11 crossings on the northern border and at any of the nine SENTRI locations on the southern border." CBP's John Wagner

Rick Steele

Customs and Border Protection's recent merger of three separate databases has supercharged trusted traveler programs across the northern and southern borders.


The three systems, which started as islands of automation at separate points of entry, have become a shared database for Nexus, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) and Free and Secure Trade (FAST).


'We started all the databases in 2005 and finished in 2006,' said John Wagner, CBP's director of passenger automation programs, of the FAST, Nexus and SENTRI programs. 'We have now one single integrated database. If you are a Nexus card holder, you can use it at any of 11 [land] crossings on the northern border and at any of the nine SENTRI locations on the southern border.' The merged system is called the Global Enrollment database, Wagner said.


Now that CBP has integrated the databases and deployed the same radio frequency identification device technology for all three programs, it plans to expand Nexus, the northern border trusted traveler program, by improving online enrollment and extending the program's initial pilot to other Canadian cities.


Pilot in Canada

CBP officials have run a pilot air traveler program for Nexus enrollees in Vancouver, British Columbia, since November 2004. Nexus enrollees can use their credentials for 'preclearance' approval at that airport to enter the country.


'We are about to expand that to other preclearance airports such as Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Halifax and Edmonton,' Wagner said.


In the Nexus air program, CBP officials collect an iris scan when applicants enroll in Nexus, which the travelers use on subsequent trips across the border to link themselves to their credentials and use their speedy border-crossing privileges.


The merged database uses the Oracle database management system. CBP officials declined to release the cost of the program, saying the cost figures were unavailable and that the projects had predated the department's creation.


While the programs share a common database, they differ in policy aspects, which can impose some technology constraints.


Nexus and SENTRI provide background checks and secure biometric credentials for residents who cross the borders frequently for work, shopping and other reasons. But Mexican border authorities do not certify individuals participating in the SENTRI program. And the FAST program enrolls and certifies tractor-trailers as well as individuals.


The government launched Nexus in 1999, SENTRI in 2001 and FAST in 2002, Wagner said. When the programs started, each credential was associated with travel only across a single port of entry.


FAST now serves about 80,000 truck drivers, while Nexus has some 116,000 members on the Canadian border and SENTRI serves about 100,000 users, Wagner said. FAST also includes registration for the equipment the drivers use.


Both FAST and SENTRI use RFID vicinity readers to identify the tractor-trailer and the car, respectively, that the travelers are using.


CBP coordinates the Nexus program with the Canadian Border Services Agency, which conducts its own background check of enrolled U.S. travelers.


Nexus costs travelers $50 and SENTRI costs $129 for five-year credentials, CBP officials said.


The programs' broad acceptance reflects support in border communities, officials said. Peter Cutler, communications director for Mayor Byron W. Brown of Buffalo, N.Y., said, 'The Nexus program has worked well for people on both sides of the border.


'In this region, many Americans have summer homes on Canadian lake shores,' Buffalo's Cutler said. 'Many Canadians come here to work. Any plans to upgrade the program would be very helpful for people on both sides of the border.'


TSA launched a limited registered-traveler program for domestic travel [GCN, June 12, 2006, Page 7], but it operates only at a handful of airports.

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