Traveler Identity Cards Spark Debate at Smart Card Alliance Conference

Concerns over cards that could be read from 30 feet away among chief topics at SCA conference

"We're very sensitive to privacy, but we're concerned about backups at entry points, too," said Williams.

Williams also reported that since January 2004, the U.S. Visit program has screened 53 million border crossings and stopped more than 1,000 people at the border. Sharing the data with the State Department for screening people has paid off, too. "They have had 16,500 biometric hits on people. These are people that have done something wrong," he said.

Electronic Passport

"This month, the electronic passports went into pilot production," Moss announced at the conference. "We expect to start issuing tourist e-passports in August."

Explaining why the program took longer to implement than planned, Moss said the passport was completely re-designed and the adjudication process strengthened. State also added a number of security features to the electronic passport over the last year, including an anti-skimming material woven into the covers that greatly restricts reading the contactless smart chip in the passport when the cover is closed. There is also a printed data key inside the cover that must be scanned to unlock the ability to read the passport information.

"We went back to the drawing board and took a belt-and-suspenders approach to protect the identity and privacy of Americans," said Moss.

The United States is the world's biggest issuer of passports, bigger than No. 2 U.K. and No. 3 Germany combined. "This year we will issue about 13 million, and we expect to reach 17 million in 2008," Moss said.

The new electronic passport is based on international standards. It includes contactless smart chip technology with anti-forging features and a digital photograph to ensure the person carrying the passport is really the one to whom it was issued.

Registered traveler

This week, the Transportation Security Agency is expected to announce new standards for registered traveler programs that will be privately managed and selected locally by airports, according to Carter Morris, senior vice president of transportation security policy at the American Association of Airport Executives.

The TSA hopes the program will streamline airport security processing by allowing people to be pre-screened, qualifying them for an expedited screening process. This could be a big benefit to all travelers, since 8% of air travelers represent 40% of air traffic, according to Morris.

The AAAE organized the Registered Traveler Interoperability Consortium, a group of more than 70 airports representing 80% of all passenger capacity. All of the members agreed to do business the same way, and follow the rules for technical interoperability and finances established by the TSA and the consortium.

"We took a collaborative approach, and we hope that it bears fruit," said Morris.

Other Conference Topics

Speakers also covered HSPD-12 implementation, e-government trends, international smart ID card programs and the status of NIST testing for government Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards.