DHS Favors RFID

Even though the Homeland Security Department has not yet decided what type of technology to use in passes issued to frequent travelers crossing the border, it appears the department has decided that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) beats any other alternative in terms of speeding folks across the border with Mexico and Canada.

Customs and Border Protection, whose parent department is DHS, came to that conclusion in its Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative released last month. That draft report says it will take just 20 seconds to read an RFID-enabled document, query the CPB database before a traveler reaches the guard booth and send the travelers (except for bad guys) on their merry way.

That’s five seconds faster than it would take to process machine readable documents through an optical card scanner and 25 seconds faster than it would take for an officer to inspect paper travel documents and manually enter a database query, the environmental assessment concluded.

Those saved seconds can add up, according to the environmental assessment, as there were 246.9 million border crossings from Mexico and 76.7 million crossings from Canada in 2004. At those volumes, even a five second difference can amount to a lot of stalled traffic burning up $3-plus a gallon gas.

The environmental assessment said that if Customs opts for the RFID alternative, the agency will have to equip every vehicle and pedestrian lane at the 163 land border crossings with RFID readers (an undisclosed number already have the technology installed), which may be why RFID companies are in a pitched battle to convince CPB of the efficacy of their technology.

Then there’s the privacy concerns about RFID. Theoretically someone could steal an identity by setting up a pirate reader near a border crossing, scarfing up personal information on thousands of people in a matter of minutes. But, privacy seems to be a quaint notion that is oh so 20th century.