Such technologies are critical to several initiatives, including one that requires U.S. air travelers to carry valid enhanced passports when traveling to and from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico.
A senior Homeland Security Department official on Thursday told House lawmakers that various identity security technologies have helped her agency keep dangerous people and materials out of the United States and away from critical infrastructure.
But she said the department must be given flexibility in analyzing what technologies best meet the needs of specific missions.
Kathleen Kraninger, the director of the department's screening coordination office, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization and Procurement that the department carefully analyzed its technological options before adopting specific applications for several high-profile screening programs.
Secure identification technologies play a key role in several ongoing Homeland Security initiatives, including one that requires U.S. air travelers to carry valid enhanced passports when traveling to and from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. High-tech cards being tested for the so-called Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are equipped with radio-frequency identification chips that are readable by scanning devices.
Kraninger said in prepared testimony that speeding the document authentication process is a crucial aspect of the travel initiative, as it is designed to help mitigate traffic along the border. She said the department has worked to minimize the amount of information on the cards, which will include only unique identifiers so they do not physically contain any sensitive information that may be lost.
She said the department also deliberately moved to set minimum standards for implementing a federal law that mandates benchmarks for driver's licensing systems. She said that under the so-called REAL ID Act, states must be given the flexibility to do what is best for them.
"The role of the federal government in this case is to ensure commonality of approach, which includes minimal physical security features as well as quality and integrity of the issuance process because of the role driver's licenses play in the U.S. as a core identity document," she said.
Others who testified at the hearing tried to sell the benefits of specific technological solutions.
Neville Pattinson, the vice president of the ID security firm Gemalto, said on behalf of the Secure ID Coalition that "smart card" technologies can offer a unique blend of efficiency and privacy. The cards he touted feature computer chips that can be read from short distances.
He asked the committee to review whether RFID cards are the best fit for the travel initiative, as well as for enhanced driver's licenses being tested by some states to meet the REAL ID mandate.
But Kathryn Alsbrooks, director of U.S. federal programs for LaserCard, said her company's optical memory card is best suited for various government initiatives. That type of technology is currently used by Homeland Security for permanent resident "green cards," as well as by the State Department for a special border visa card.