The U.S. Department of State could modify its plans to use RFID tags in passport cards if public comment sways officials.
Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs, said Thursday that the federal government is in the process of extending a public comment period on the proposal until Jan. 7. The news comes after the Smart Card Alliance criticized the federal government's plans to use radio frequency identification to improve efficiency of screening at land border checkpoints for travelers in and out of Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas. Those countries don't require a U.S. passport to visit, but the U.S. government wants citizens to carry some form of official identification that can't be easily forged, altered, or duplicated. Passport cards are a cheaper alternative to passports.
Using RFID, inspectors would be able to read the cards as cars approach their booths. That would provide inspectors with information before they do a brief physical check of occupants and identification. Truckers and others would be able to register as regular travelers, speeding the process even more for shipping companies that get bogged down in long inspection lines, Moss said.
After the alliance complained that people could be tracked or cards could be duplicated, Moss, who is in charge of passport services, said the government would issue RF-blocking sleeves to protect the cards and help secure people's information.
The Smart Card Alliance is urging the federal government to adopt the same microprocessor technology used in e-passports. The group argues that microprocessors allow for encryption, authentication, and other security enhancements, and that the radio frequency signals in passports have a shorter range and are therefore less vulnerable to interception.
Moss said that the passport cards would contain strong security features.
"There will be all sorts of security features embedded in that card," he said. "It will be very difficult to reproduce except in a very sophisticated printing process. We're not talking about drivers' licenses."
Moss said that although inspectors will still physically check cars and identification, the passport cards would probably cut a few seconds out of inspections. In heavy border traffic, a few seconds for each vehicle can translate into hours of waiting time, he said.
"For every second you add, when you multiply that by the number of people going across the border, you have enormous implications."