DHS drops using RFID tags for U.S. Visit

Long-range technology proves to be ineffective

The Homeland Security Department is abandoning the idea of using radio frequency identification tags to track foreign visitors leaving the country because the technology has not proven successful in testing, according to DHS secretary Michael Chertoff.

In testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee, Chertoff confirmed that RFID testing performed as part of the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (U.S. Visit) program at several land border crossing points was not effective.

In those tests, foreign visitors were given an I-94 document with an embedded RFID tag. When the RFID tag passed through exit lanes at the border, it was to be read wirelessly by readers suspended above the lanes. The RFID tags contained a reference number linked to a departmental database with biometric information on the visitor issued with that document.

The Government Accountability Office in a Jan. 31, 2007, report said the readers did not detect the tags reliably.

'The RFID test proved, as GAO indicated, unsuccessful,' Chertoff told the committee.

'I mean, this is the real world,' Chertoff said. 'I think, yes, we're abandoning it. That's not going to be a solution. So in the real world, when something fails, we drop it and we move to the next thing,' he added.

The RFID tags used long-range radio frequency technology, which has been opposed by some in industry. 'Inherent problems with vicinity read technology make it unsuitable for identifying people, something the industry has said all along,' said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance. 'The industry has long recommended using short read-range technology, like that in e-passports, for border crossing ID cards.'

Chertoff addressed several challenges facing the U.S. Visit program, which records fingerprints for all foreign visitors. The program also is intended to track when visitors exit the country, but Chertoff said the department is facing serious hurdles in meeting that goal.

To improve U.S. Visit and make it interoperable with FBI fingerprinting and other programs globally, the program is increasing the number of fingerprints needed for entry into the country from two to 10 for entry, and will be deployed overseas and at all major points of entry by the end of 2008, Chertoff told the committee.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' affiliate publication, Washington Technology.

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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