DHS pilots RFID system to speed border crossings

Busy borders Crossings in 2003


Personal vehicles30,220,184


Personal vehicles88,068,391

As the Homeland Security Department adds data and verification requirements to its visa program, it's also trying to reduce the time required for international travelers to pass through U.S. entry and exit points.

DHS officials plan to install antennas in travel lanes at five locations to detect radio-frequency identification chips embedded in travel documents carried by international visitors as they ap- proach ports of entry.

Speeding traffic

The test program, which will run Aug. 1 through March 2006, is designed to speed both vehicle and pedestrian traffic through the entry ports of Nogales East and Nogales West in Arizona, Alexandria Bay in New York, and the Pacific Highway and the Peace Arch in Washington state.

The pilots are part of a border management enterprise DHS is creating at land, sea and air ports of entry.

'It helps to catch bad people and process good people,' said Jim Williams, director of DHS' U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.

DHS plans to expand the RFID capability to all land border crossings after 2006, 'depending on the necessary funding,' he said.

Travel lane antennas at land ports will recognize whether people walking or driving up to an entry booth are carrying I-94 visa documents with RFID chips encased within the card stock. Visitors holding such documents, Williams said, will be processed quickly.

A Customs and Border Protection attendant scans the document, which activates the chip and captures only a number from the machine-readable chip. The number matches with names and biographical data on a U.S. Visit database. No personal data is contained in the chip, he said.

DHS is migrating I-94 documents, which record visitors' arrival date and length of authorized visit, to electronic form.

Currently, DHS collects two fingerprints and a photo, which are scanned and printed on a new RFID-enabled I-94 form. The department is considering taking 10 fingerprints'as the FBI's system does'to increase accuracy, but that's a long-term goal.

For the future

'It's something the National Institute of Standards and Technology has recognized that we need to move to in order to deal with the growing database and make sure that we don't get too many false positives,' Williams said.

But DHS's system wasn't developed to check 10 fingerprints against the FBI lists. It would take a minimum of three minutes and up to 20 minutes to check each person, and 'you cannot do that at a busy port of entry,' Williams said.

Currently, it takes DHS systems about 6 seconds to check the two prints against its Automated Biometric Identification System.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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