- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

A congressional mandate for new identification at the Canadian and Mexican borders amounts to an “honor system” that will give terrorists speedy access into the United States, conservatives and liberals said yesterday.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that goes into effect next year requires a passport or a new identification card for Americans traveling across the border.

Homeland Security officials are pushing for a People Access Security Service or PASS card with a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that can be read at the border as the driver speeds by a reader. New passports also will contain RFID chips.

Critics of the program say information from the RFID chips can be stolen easily and will lead to a spike in identity thefts, and that cloned or stolen cards can be obtained easily by terrorists and illegal aliens.

“When you’re going through the border at 30 miles per hour, all they know is that your card went through; they don’t know if you were driving,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute. “Whoever heard of a security system run on the honor system?”

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released its study of the identification program during a press conference yesterday that included Mr. Harper and Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“When we come together like this, you know something is going wrong,” Mr. Harper said of the groups’ varying political leanings.

RFID technology in commercial use to track inventory is “good for produce, not good for people,” said Tom Schatz, CAGW president.

“Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided to overdo it when it comes to securing the borders,” Mr. Schatz said. “It’s an intrusive form of identification which we think should be delayed or eliminated entirely.”

The tiny chips contain a transmitter with information that can be retrieved from a computer or hand-held “reading” device that costs about $500.

Citing similar concerns, the Senate adopted a delay of the program until 2009 in the pending 2007 homeland security appropriations bill.

According to the CAGW report, the new requirements would stifle tourism and commerce costing the U.S. economy $1.5 billion in its first year.

“Recent polls reveal that less than 25 percent of U.S. citizens will purchase a PASS Card to travel across the border. Yet, the federal government continues to pour funding into developing this new document, while the public is not interested in purchasing the cards,” the report said.

Personal information that could be stolen from the card includes a photo, Social Security number, address, and birth documentation.

“Someone doesn’t need to pick your wallet or your bank account; all they have to do is stand near you with a scanner,” Mr. Sparapani said. “It will drive ID theft up dramatically in this country and that’s a real danger to our citizens and personal privacy.”

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