By Andy Williams, Contributing Editor
Even while two U.S. departments–State and Homeland Security–ponder PASS Card issuance, two U.S. senators have entered the fray, successfully pushing amendments that, if passed, would delay implementation of the controversial border crossing card for 17 months.
PASS, which stands for People Access Security Service, is a proposed card designed to meet the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requirements, which mandates that by Jan. 1, 2008, anyone entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, have travel documents that prove their identity and citizenship. It was first unveiled in mid-January by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michel Chertoff.
Canadian officials claim the PASS card would severely hinder their country’s commerce, particularly tourism, making it more difficult for Americans to visit Canada and vice versa. Some legislators from U.S. border states seem to agree. Lawmakers from New York and Vermont have attempted to impact the PASS card with legislation of their own.
In July another legislative attack on the still-uncertain PASS Card program was mounted. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) managed to push through an amendment in two key appropriations bills that would delay implementation of the PASS card until June 1, 2009. Sen. Leahy is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and is the Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, which handled the Senate’s work in writing the annual spending bill. He is also a senior member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. To say he carries a big stick would be an understatement.
The amendments would also force Secretaries Chertoff and Rice to certify to Congress that seven standards have been met before the program moves forward.
The Leahy-Stevens amendment also parallels the 17-month delay that the two senators managed to include in the immigration reform package. But because the future of the immigration bill is uncertain, they opted to tack on the amendment to the must-pass appropriations bill.
Add one more wrinkle … the amendment was not included in appropriations bills passed by the House, so it must go to conference committee. David Carle, a representative from Sen. Leahy’s office, told SecureIDNews that the committee likely will not meet until after Congress’ August recess. Thus the appropriations bill probably won’t pass until this fall.
“Momentum has been building in the senate. I don’t see any reason why it won’t pass,” said Mr. Carle
“… a train wreck on the horizon”
One of the problems the amendment is meant to solve is what Senator Leahy calls a lack of coordination between DHS and State and Canada. It’s “a train wreck on the horizon,” he commented when announcing adoption of the amendment. “It will be far easier and less harmful to fix these problems before this system goes into effect than to have to mop up the mess afterward. We need to prod these agencies to come to grips with these problems and fix them beforehand, not afterward.”
The Leahy-Stevens Amendment lists these seven prerequisites that must be met before the PASS card can be implemented:
- Ensure that the technology for any card meets certain security standards and that DHS and State agree on that technology.
- Share the technology with Canada and Mexico.
- Justify the fee set for the PASS card.
- Develop an alternative procedure for groups of children traveling across the border under adult supervision with parental consent.
- Install all necessary technological infrastructure at the ports of entry to process the cards and train U.S. agents at the border crossings in all aspects of the new technology.
- Make the card available for international land and sea travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and Bermuda.
- Establish a unified implementation date for all sea and land borders.
Awaiting decisions on technology, rules, and more
Meanwhile, DHS and State are proceeding, albeit slowly, towards implementing the PASS card.
“Part of it is waiting until the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) regulations are published,” said Anna Hinken, a DHS spokesperson. “The things that we will need to implement in the PASS card first need to be published.”
Once the proposed regs are released, there will then be time for public comment before they’re finalized, including, said Ms. Hinken, “what alternative documents will be acceptable.” There are currently four other border-crossing type cards in use today. (See related story.)
Having a say in what those regs might end up being include the three members of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, created last year by leaders from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, said Ms. Hinken. “The first steps are the initial technical standards,” she added.
While there is no firm time line on PASS development, implementation hasn’t slowed because of the possibility of the Leahy-Stevens amendment passing. “We haven’t stopped the aspect of PASS card development,” said Laura Tischler, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State.
A request for proposal (RFP) is in preparation that will be submitted to the industry and “we expect to be in production by the summer of 2007,” she said. The department still wants the PASS card to cost less than half the price of a $97 passport. “That was partly the reason we introduced the concept of the PASS card,” Ms. Tischler added.
The battle over technology: DHS wants RFID but State is pushing contactless
While the PASS card itself is controversial, the type of card that could be chosen is catching just as much heat.
“The technology decision is key; it’s something that’s in discussion right now,” said Ms. Tischler. “It’s something we have to get right. We’re looking at balancing the needs of the borders and privacy. We’ve decided that will be spelled out in the notice of proposed rule making.”
When will that be issued? “Soon,” she replied.
The fight over which ID technology to include in the card has added fuel to the current controversy. State favors a contactless card with a short read range, while the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which falls under the DHS umbrella, wants border inspectors to be able to read PASS cards as far as 30 feet away.
However, a draft report from DHS’ own Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee to the Full Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee opposes RFID technology.
“RFID appears to offer little benefit when compared to the consequences it brings for privacy and data integrity,” the report concluded. “Instead, it increases risks to personal privacy and security, with no commensurate benefit for performance or national security. Most difficult and troubling is the situation in which RFID is ostensibly used for tracking objects (medicine containers, for example), but can be in fact used for monitoring human behavior. These types of uses are still being explored and remain difficult to predict…We recommend that RFID be disfavored for identifying and tracking human beings.”
But this report doesn’t seem to differentiate between short- and long-read range technologies and offers no alternatives. It does suggest that if the DHS decides to go with RFID, it needs to offer as many “best practices” security measures as possible, such as giving the user the option of turning off the RFID signal and providing strong encryption processes.
The Smart Card Alliance, a nonprofit organization representing a wide range of identity technology providers and end users from all industry segments, has also jumped into the RFID-or-not argument, agreeing that choosing a chip that can be read up to 30 feet or more does raise both security and privacy concerns.
In its White Paper, “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative PASS Card: Recommendations for Using Secure Contactless Technology vs. RFID,” the alliance touts the short read-range capabilities of contactless technology. At a minimum, DHS should conduct trials of both long- and short-read range technologies, the Alliance suggests, concluding “contactless technology will fulfill the operational requirement for high throughput while also providing strong security, protecting individual privacy, and leveraging the ePassport infrastructure.”
Wait and see …
Today, it seems, there is more that we don’t know about the PASS Card than we do know. We don’t know what technology will be used, we don’t know what other existing IDs will be accepted, and because of the pending legislation, we don’t even know when it will go into effect. Next stop? Capital Hill … where the legislature may answer some of the questions and chart the PASS Card’s future.