RealTime IT News

U.S. Completes E-Passport Testing

Reporter's Notebook: Testing of biometric passports and e-passport readers is complete, and the United States plans to implement the readers for processing Visa Waiver Program (VWP) visitors by the end of October.

E-Passports contain an individual's biographic information and a digital photograph on a contactless chip embedded in the document. The Department of Homeland Security hopes biometric technologies will prevent the use of fraudulent or stolen international travel documents.

Travelers applying for admission under the VWP are allowed to enter the United States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a non-immigrant visa. Those VWP travelers that are issued a passport after Oct. 26 must present an e-passport to enter the country.

The State Department plans to begin issuing e-passports to U.S. citizens this summer.

Originally scheduled for implementation two years ago, critics have complained about the lack of documentation issued by the government. In particular, the security industry has questioned just how secure the information contained on the contactless chips really is.

DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson says not to worry.

"We are adopting biometric, electronically-based and secure travel documents that are tamper-resistant, yet provide a very convenient way to move back and forth across our borders," Jackson said in a statement this week.

He added that the DHS recently completed testing e-passports and readers with Basic Access Control (BAC) at San Francisco International Airport.

According to Jackson, BAC "enhances" the document security by preventing the unauthorized reading -- known as "skimming" -- of information contained on the e-passport.

"We have now successfully completed e-passport technology testing in a live environment. Working with Visa Waiver countries, we will begin to deploy these important security enhancements this year," Jackson said.

Your Tax Dollars at Work. Speaking of homeland security, the Government Accountability Office issued a report last month stating that the DHS and other government agencies still have no real plan or system in place to share sensitive, but unclassified, terrorist-related information.

"More than four years after September 11, the nation lacks government-wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad ongoing efforts ... to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information that is critical to protecting our homeland," the report states.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 both call for improved information sharing between agencies.

"A large amount of terrorism information is already stored electronically in systems, but there remains an unknown quantity of relevant information not captured and stored electronically," the report continues.

"However, many users are not connected to these systems ... the information about terrorists, their plans, and their activities is fragmentary."

Perhaps the DHS could put it all on contactless chips.

Trading For Jobs. Being President Bush's United States Trade Representative (USTR) is proving to be a good career stepping stone for Republicans loyal to the White House.

Earlier this week, Bush nominated the current USTR, Rob Portman, to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. Portman replaced Robert Zoellick, who is now the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.

Bush nominated Deputy USTR Susan C. Schwab to replace Portman and used the occasion to tout his administration's free trade successes.

"Trade is one of the most powerful engines of growth and job creation. America accounts for about 5 percent of the world's population, and that means that 95 percent of our potential customers live overseas," Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday morning.

"So my administration has taken an aggressive agenda to break down barriers to American exports across the world."

Bush noted that when he took office in 2000, the United States had three free trade agreements in place. Since then, Zoellick and Portman negotiated free trade agreements with 11 countries with another 18 pending.

"Last year, the countries with which we have free trade agreements represented about 7 percent of the economy abroad, but about 42 percent of our exports," Bush said.

"Lowering trade barriers to the sale of our goods and services helps provide a level playing field for American workers and farmers and ranchers."

According to the American Electronics Association, U.S. high-tech exports increased by 4 percent last year with exports of $199 billion in 2005. Tech exports to China increased by 14 percent.

The bad news: imports from China increased by 26 percent.