State, DHS grant RFID contracts to speed border crossings

The State and Homeland Security departments this week awarded more than $160 million in contracts for electronic identifying systems using radio frequencies that are designed to speed up border crossings.

The State Department awarded General Dynamics Information Technology a five-year $99.3 million contract for a radio frequency identification passport card that travelers can use at U.S. land border crossings and sea ports of entry. State officials said it expects to start issuing the new cards this spring.

General Dynamics will integrate the cards into the traditional process State uses to issue passports and also will provide the department with electronic chips, card stocks, printers and software.

In addition, DHS' Customs and Border Protection unit awarded Unisys a $62 million contract to provide the RFID equipment needed to read the new passport cards and to install technologies that can capture images of automobile license plates as travelers drive through Customs. The equipment will be installed at the busiest 39 land border ports. Unisys will begin work on the project this week.

Intermec will supply RFID readers for the border project and Perceptics will provide the license plate reader technology, said Tip Underwood, a partner with Customs and Maritime Security for Unisys Federal Systems.

The Perceptics license plate reader uses cameras and imaging software to automatically capture, identify and record the alphanumeric code, state or province of origin, and country of origin of a license plate.

The information gathered from the plates can be linked to law enforcement databases for background checks and assist in generating accurate statistics and updating existing records.

Starting Jan. 31, Anyone entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region must present a U.S. passport or valid travel documents, such as the passport card or a driver's license, and proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, under requirements mandated by Congress in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Frequent travelers between the United States and Canada already use cards outfitted with RFID technology, which were issued under programs such as NEXUS. CPB Commissioner W. Ralph Basham called deployment of RFID technology at the 39 crossings, which account for 95 percent of all cross-border traffic, a "tremendous leap" in the development of "more efficient borders that will allow a more convenient crossing experience, as well as contributing to the overall security of our nation by knowing the identity and citizenship of every traveler."

CPB said the RFID system also will be able to read and validate advanced driver's licenses from entities that are developing the high-tech licenses, including Washington state and Canadian provinces. CPB said no personal information will be stored on the RFID-equipped passport cards, just a unique number that matches a database where personal information is collected.

Because the type of RFID tag used in the passport transmits a signal that can be read within a few feet, privacy groups, members of Congress and the industry group Smart Card Alliance, argue for use of the shorter range RFID tags used in passports.

But after sifting through more than 4,000 public comments, State determined in a final rule issued Dec. 31, 2007, that the passport card technology will speed up border traffic while at the same time ensuring privacy. The rule says the new passport cards will come with a protective sleeve that will prevent unauthorized transmission of the unique identifier number.

Unisys will install RFID infrastructure at these ports (ports processing largest volume of travelers processed are listed first):

  • San Ysidro, Calif.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Brownsville, Texas
  • Hidalgo, Texas
  • Laredo, Texas
  • Buffalo/Niagara Falls, N.Y.
  • Otay Mesa, Calif.
  • Calexico, Calif.
  • Detroit, Mich.
  • Nogales, Ariz.
  • Eagle Pass, Texas
  • San Luis, Ariz.
  • Calexico East, Calif.
  • Blaine, Wash.
  • Douglas, Ariz.
  • Del Rio, Texas
  • Port Huron, Mich.
  • Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y.
  • Roma, Texas
  • Calais, Maine
  • Progresso, Texas
  • Rio Grande City, Texas
  • Tecate, Calif.
  • Massena, N.Y.
  • Point Roberts, Wash.
  • Presidio, Texas
  • Saulte St. Marie, Mich.
  • Andrade, Calif.
  • Alexandria Bay, N.Y.
  • Sumas, Wash.
  • Fabens, Texas
  • Naco, Ariz.
  • Derby Line, Vt.
  • Lukeville, Ariz.
  • Madawaska, Maine
  • International Falls, Minn.
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Lynden, Wash.
  • Highgate Springs, Vt.
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