- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

Homeland Security officials are testing a new visa program for foreign visitors that embeds tracking technology into the documentation that also can access private information.

The proposed US-VISIT system uses radio frequency identification chips to track entrances and exits by visitors traveling under I-94 form visas and to flag criminals or terrorists. The long-term I-94 form visas often are used by students and business travelers.

“By testing this promising use of technology, we are taking another step to transform the way we gather information about entries and exits at our borders,” said Jim Williams, US-VISIT director.

“With the innovative use of technology, we can protect our citizens and visitors from threats to our security and allow valuable trade and travel into the U.S. to continue and thrive,” Mr. Williams said.

The technology was demonstrated yesterday at Alexandria Bay in Buffalo, N.Y., and Peace Arch in Washington state.

The tests will run through next summer at five U.S. land border ports, including Nogales East in Deconcini, Ariz., and Nogales West in Mariposa, Ariz.

Immigration watchdogs criticize the program for excluding Canadian and Mexican citizens from the experiment. Privacy advocates say there are no safeguards to prevent hackers from tracking or hijacking private information.

The Center for Immigration Studies said in a report issued yesterday that US-VISIT enrollment for Mexican citizens would curb the rampant fraud and abuse of border crossing cards.

“Ample justification exists to include Mexican visitors in US-VISIT. Mexico sends the largest number of visitors to the United States, and Mexicans make up the largest share of illegal aliens overall [70 percent], and probably the largest share of overstays,” said Jessica Vaughan, author of the study.

Privacy advocates are skeptical of radio frequency identification, which businesses use to track inventory and the Pentagon uses to track military shipments. The tiny chips contain codes that can access a traveler’s private information stored in a separate database.

US-VISIT will collect and store on each traveler all 10 fingerprints plus their photo, name, date of birth, citizenship, sex, passport number, country of issuance, country of residence, visa number, date, place of issuance, alien registration number and address while staying in the United States.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center on Friday asked the Homeland Security Department to revise a rule that allows the private information to be used routinely by numerous public, private and government entities.

“A ‘routine use’ is a catch-all loophole in the Privacy Act that allows an agency to disclose personal information to others without the individual’s consent,” the center’s attorneys said in the request.

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