The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s announcement by that foreign visitors passing through “simulated ports” in Arizona, New York and Washington would receive RFID tags met wide press coverage. The proof-of-concept would issue passive tags (attached to visas, passports or other documentation) to visitors for the length of their stay in the U.S. The unencrypted tags would store a unique serial number, but no personal information or travel history.
While the RFID components of US-VISIT are in their infancy, other initiatives hint at DHS’s goals. From a January 4, 2005 press release on exit procedure issued by the agency:
“US-VISIT processing involves the collection of two index fingerscans and a digital photograph. With the deployment of US-VISIT technology, a visitor is no longer required to fill out the Form I-94 by hand. Instead, the visitor’s biographic information is entered electronically when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer scans the visitor’s travel document.”
Form I-94 is an arrival-departure record of a visitor’s date of entry and the period for which it is legal for him or her to remain in the United States. The biometric data is used to match a visitor’s identity to the profile captured by the U.S. State Department at the time of Visa issue.
The U.S. government’s commitment to US VISIT is underlined by early operation statistics: biometric data has been gathered on 17.5 million visitors through the largest ports of entry, 407 people have been denied entry due to incorrect or falsified information.
The RFID tags would provide border and custom agents quick access to the identifying information and the visitor’s status. The system could also be used in conjunction with biometric scans on entry or exit. While the frequency and nature of the tagging system has not been clearly defined, the possibility for surveillance of movement is present.