State digitizes passport photos

The State Department has updated its Travel Document Issuance System to issue new U.S.
domestic passports with digitized photos.


At least 15,000 U.S. passports were stolen in 1997, making identity fraud one of the
fastest-growing crimes, Rubin said. The anti-counterfeiting features of the new passport
data page will deter traffic in stolen passports.


“Somebody somewhere may come up with a pretty good knockoff, but at this point we
don’t foresee that,” said Patrick McHale, director of the Office of Technology
Development in the Passport Services Directorate.


The National Passport Center in Portsmouth, N.H., which handles 30 percent of the
stateside workload, is producing passports at a rate of 2,500 a day with the new
production system. In addition, the Bureau of Consular Affairs made 6.7 million passports
last year. “Doing 6.7 million of anything is a very large production,” McHale
said.


Two high-volume peripherals set the LAN-based Travel Document Issuance System apart
from ordinary office document systems. ImageTrac scanners from ScanOptics Inc. of
Manchester, Conn., capture 24-bit color document images at a rate of up to 90 pages per
minute. The ImageTrac scanner accepts passport renewal applications with the books
attached, which is impressive, McHale said: “It’s the way we need to work.”


The LAN system also uses high-volume MP300-US book printers made by Toppan Printing Co.
of Japan and distributed by Thermo Digital Technologies LLC of Washington.


“The printer lets you put in a blank passport book and get a completely finished
product at the other end,” project manager Richard McClevy said.


Passport Services officials invested two years in procuring their specialized printers.
The old passport printers were “well past their lifecycle and falling apart,”
said Richard Martin, director of the Systems Services Division of the Passport Services
Directorate. Systems managers had to compress three separate testing schedules into one
when they got the new printers.


There was some risk involved, Martin said. But he is pleased with the initial
performance of the production system, managed by the Intel Corp. LANDesk Management Suite.


Key software components of the TCP/IP production system are Microsoft Windows NT Server
4.0 and Informix Software Inc. Dynamic Server, which runs under the SunSoft Solaris
operating system for Intel servers.


The Informix database management system stores and replicates text information and
digitized photos as binary large objects.


The database servers are three Intel quad-processor servers, each with 400-MHz Pentium
II Xeon processors, 512M RAM, 81G of RAID storage and dual power supplies. Four two-way
Pentium II servers host the passport application and Windows NT file-and-print services.
The servers connect by fiber-optic cable to a 3Com Corp. Gigabit Ethernet switch. The
updated passport issuance application, rewritten in C and C++, replaces a PC- and
terminal-based Sun Interactive Unix version used by the Bureau of Consular Affairs since
1981.


In updating the application, systems officials overhauled the data communications
architecture and wrote a custom middleware application that runs under NT and acts as an
application front-end processor.


“Instead of communicating with each of the different databases in the department,
we put a front-end processor on the external databases,” Martin said. The front-end
processor minimized the communication problems they had with a mainframe IBM DB2 fraud
database and a minicomputer database of historical records needed for passport
adjudication and processing, he said.


The Portsmouth passport center and the 14 other U.S. passport offices each have a Cisco
Systems Inc. 3600 series router connecting them to the Consular Affairs WAN, which is a
leased 56-Kbps frame-relay network. As the bureau converts to photo digitization, it will
bump that service up to 256 Kbps, Martin said.


The New Orleans passport center will come online next month, McHale said, and the
remaining 13 domestic passport agencies will get their new systems and replacement desktop
PCs later this year.  n


The National Passport Center, located in a once-empty building on the decommissioned
Pease Air Force Base site, “is certainly one of the best business deals the State
Department has ever worked out,” McClevy said.



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