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12/30/2005
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RFID Passport Tests To Begin At San Francisco Airport

The trial is the latest test of the technology by the Department of Homeland Security, joining an earlier trial at the Los Angeles airport.

The Department of Homeland Security will begin testing passports embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology at the San Francisco International Airport mid-January, a spokesperson for the agency said Friday.

Australia, New Zealand and Singapore have begun to issue passports to travelers with RFID chips. Many pass through the San Francisco, making it a likely location to test the technology, according to Anna Hinken, a US-Visit spokesperson at the Department of Homeland Security. "We're bringing technology to the borders and chose RFID as one to help reach the goals of expediting safe entrance into the United States," she said.

In October, the U.S. State Department issued final regulations on passports issued after October 2006, stating all would have embedded RFID chips that carry the holder's personal data and digital photo. Specifications for the passports were developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency.

San Francisco is not the first major U.S. city to trial the technology. Through the US-Visit program, the DHS ran a three month test with RFID-embedded e-passports in fall 2005 at the Los Angeles International Airport. Other RFID projects have been in the works, too.

All this increased security isn't cheap. The technology budget for the US-Visit program adds up to more than $1 billion in the past three fiscal years, ending Oct. 1. DHS is waiting for "official" word on the 2006 budget, but Hinken said funds have been approved and expects final funding in January.

And there are more trials underway. RFID chips have been embedded in I-94 forms. People who frequently cross U.S. borders to work, for example, are required to carry these forms. Tests at the five border crossings will continue through spring 2006. A formal evaluation on the project is scheduled by March. The department will then make a decision on whether to continue the program.

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