The Department of Homeland Security will begin testing passports embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology at the San Francisco International Airport mid-January, a spokesperson for the agency said Friday.
Australia, New Zealand and Singapore have begun to issue passports to travelers with RFID chips. Many pass through the San Francisco, making it a likely location to test the technology, according to Anna Hinken, a US-Visit spokesperson at the Department of Homeland Security. "We're bringing technology to the borders and chose RFID as one to help reach the goals of expediting safe entrance into the United States," she said.
In October, the U.S. State Department issued final regulations on passports issued after October 2006, stating all would have embedded RFID chips that carry the holder's personal data and digital photo. Specifications for the passports were developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency.
San Francisco is not the first major U.S. city to trial the technology. Through the US-Visit program, the DHS ran a three month test with RFID-embedded e-passports in fall 2005 at the Los Angeles International Airport. Other RFID projects have been in the works, too.
All this increased security isn't cheap. The technology budget for the US-Visit program adds up to more than $1 billion in the past three fiscal years, ending Oct. 1. DHS is waiting for "official" word on the 2006 budget, but Hinken said funds have been approved and expects final funding in January.
And there are more trials underway. RFID chips have been embedded in I-94 forms. People who frequently cross U.S. borders to work, for example, are required to carry these forms. Tests at the five border crossings will continue through spring 2006. A formal evaluation on the project is scheduled by March. The department will then make a decision on whether to continue the program.
Since August, the US-Visit program has tested forms with RFID at five United States border crossings: two in Nogales Ariz.; two in Blaine, Wash.; and one in Alexandria Bay, New York.
The RFID projects are just several of the department's ongoing effort to monitor U.S. borders with technology. The US-Visit program also has completed installing all 104 land border port of entry, those staffed with customs and border officials, with biometrics entry capabilities. US-Visit first installed biometric entry procedures at the 50 busiest land border ports along the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land borders in December 2004.
Since January 2004, US-Visit has processed more than 44 million visitors, which makes the program the largest-scale application of biometrics in the world, the department said. RFID embedded in I-94 forms used by people who cross U.S. borders frequently, but biometrics has enabled US-Visit to stop more than 970 people with histories of criminal or immigration violations, including federal penitentiary escapees, convicted rapists, drug traffickers, individuals convicted of murder, and numerous immigration violators.