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.

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