State to issue notice on passport cards

The intent is to create wallet-sized, secure People Access Security Services cards that would include radio frequency vicinity-read technology, a State official said.

State Department officials will be issuing a Notice of Proposed Rule Making next week that lays out the architecture of a smart card that would be used under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

Frank Moss, the department’s deputy assistant secretary for passport services, said the intent is to create wallet-sized, secure People Access Security Services (PASS) cards – also known as passport cards – that would include radio frequency vicinity-read technology. He said such read technology is being used in other programs, such as Nexus, a joint U.S./Canadian traveler program to simplify border crossings for frequent travelers between the two countries.

The only data written on the PASS card would be a pointer number that would refer an agent to a cardholder’s personal data in a database, he said. Rather than using a passport, American citizens, who frequently travel to Canada, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda, could use the card to verify their identities and citizenship.

Under the proposal, a first-time adult applicant would pay $45 for a PASS card, which would be renewable every 10 years for $20, Moss said. For children, he said, the cost would be less but he didn’t specify the price. Children must renew their cards every five years.

Moss, who was speaking at an Information Technology Association of America conference on identity management in McLean, Va., said State is seeking comments on this proposal until Dec. 18. He said the department hopes to issue a final rule early next year.

He said State hoped to start production of PASS cards by summer 2007.

Congressional lawmakers approved this summer an amendment that requires the technology implemented for the PASS cards meet certain security standards. The amendment also delayed implementation of the WHTI for 17 months, until June 1, 2009.

Controversy exists about whether the joint State/Homeland Security Department program should use contactless smart card technology that requires readers to read cards from a short distance or radio frequency identification technology, which can read cards from farther away.

Sarkar is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.