- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

The United States and its North American neighbors yesterday announced that they will set up a “trusted traveler” program for the continent by 2008, and will this year develop a plan to respond together to major terror attacks and other incidents.

Trusted traveler programs enable people who provide biometric personal data, such as fingerprints or iris scans pay a fee and submit to background checks to use special travel lanes at border crossings.

Such programs are intended to speed processing for travelers not considered security risks and whose identity can be verified biometrically.

The Department of Homeland Security said air and sea ports also would be included in the program.

The program, announced last week at a House panel by Homeland Security official Elaine Dezenski, would incorporate both Nexus and SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) — the trusted traveler programs being run at the U.S. border.

The program is part of a hugely ambitious effort launched by President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on March 23, after their summit at Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch.

Ultimately, the Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America, as it is called, aims to standardize border-admissions procedures — watch list checks, visa processing and document standards — to the point where “all travelers arriving in North America will experience a comparable level of screening,” Homeland Security officials say.

Yesterday’s announcement followed a meeting in Ottawa between U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Mexican Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Anne McLellan.

The three were joined by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, Canadian Minister of Industry David Emerson and Mexican Secretary of the Economy Fernando Canales.

The meeting, the first in a series of planned follow-ups to the March summit, also agreed that the three nations would work toward “compatible biometric border and immigration systems,” announced the elimination of a series of regulatory barriers and other impediments to cross-border commerce, and committed to a comprehensive plan for responding together to major terror attacks and other incidents.

Within 12 months, according to Homeland Security, the three nations will have established “protocols for incident management that impact border operations [and for] maritime incidents, cross-border public health emergencies and cross-border law-enforcement response.”

Cooperation on incident response also will include “interoperable communications systems” and joint preparedness exercises, including one ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

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