When to hold 'em

Travel credential programs rely on a combination of technologies

The People Access Security Service card program and its often-denounced sibling, the fledgling Real ID driver's license program, have evolved from centuries of government identity policies ranging back to the creation of diplomatic credentials by colonial insurgents in the 18th century.

Benjamin Franklin, ambassador and plenipotentiary to the French court, was one of the earlier bearers of proto-federal identity and travel documents.

Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, citizens returning from Canada could gain entry back into the United States simply by stating that they were Americans. Border guards who became familiar with local residents relied on their personal knowledge of their neighbors.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), however, is set to attain its final phase on June 1, 2009, and will require all citizens re-entering the United States at all border points'whether by air, land or sea' to present secure biometric proof of identity and citizenship.

Secretaries Michael Chertoff of the Homeland Security Department (DHS) and Condoleezza Rice of State unveiled the PASS program in January 2007 to provide a secure biometric proof of citizenship and identity that would be cheaper than a passport. .

The secure biometric driver's licenses mandated under the federal Real ID program also require proof of legal presence in the country. It is notable that citizenship is only one form of legal presence.

Many categories of tourists, temporary workers, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, diplomats, business travelers, aircrew, 'temporarily' authorized Cuban citizens who have lived here legally since the early 1960s, foreign students and the like also meet the legal presence requirement. Many of the non-citizens who are legally present hold rights to work and to drive.

The overlap between the Real ID and WHTI programs, and the need for both programs to verify individuals' visa or citizenship status, has inspired DHS and State to approve consolidated credentials issued by some border states that function as both PASS cards and Real ID driver's licenses.

However they are not valid for entry via airline.

Citizens who apply for PASS cards must meet proof of citizenship standards equivalent to those required for passport applicants. The PASS cards also will permit travelers to re-enter the country following sea voyages to other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Travelers arriving by plane must still present U.S. or foreign passports, except in special cases such as individuals who hold Cuban Re-entry Permits and those who arrive involuntarily via extradition or 'special rendition.'

A further elaboration of the 'passport-lite' program is that three border states have agreed to issue driver's licenses that also will function as PASS cards. In program regulations issued March 27 that take effect June 1, 2009, DHS and State designated the Washington state enhanced driver's license (EDL) as a WHTI-compliant credential.

The regulation also specified that trusted traveler cards issued under the NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST programs also will serve as WHTI-compliant identification.

The two departments stated that additional states and Canadian provinces would issue EDLs over the next several months.

The current dispute over the PASS program centers around the use of optical memory technology, also called optical stripe technology, as a means of preventing counterfeiting. Proponents of that technology point to the fact that credentials using optical stripe technology have never been counterfeited.

Counterfeiting a PASS card is an especially desirable goal for the brokers who provide identity documents and financial services to international criminals and terrorists, because the credentials confer the right to enter the country an unlimited number of times and to drive.

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