US govt axes RFID for border security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now looking to alternative technologies for its border security system after RFID tags failed to work as expected in a 15-month test.

The department is now looking to options such as biometric technologies that will be used to track foreign visitors passing through checkpoints when they exit the U.S., according to a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman.

The DHS tested the RFID technology in an effort to improve its U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program , which was created by Congress in January 2004 to track foreign nationals within the U.S.

The spokeswoman said the department had hoped that the RFID technology could be used to automate and speed up the process of getting an accurate record of foreign visitors as they leave the country.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff disclosed the failure of the technology on Feb. 9 in testimony to the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He cited a Government Accountability Office report released on Jan. 31 that found the RFID test to be a failure as a result of performance and reliability problems.

Points of failure

The DHS tested the technology at five entry points on the Canadian and Mexican borders, the program spokeswoman said. RFID tags were embedded on select I-94 immigration documents, which show an immigrant’s country of origin and legal status in the U.S.

The RFID-tagged documents were to be scanned as the visitors passed through a border crossing, and their exit from the country was to be recorded in a DHS database.

The GAO report found that during a one-week period at a test site, only 14 percent of 166 RFID tags that crossed the border were read by scanners. The DHS had set a goal for the test of reading 70 percent of tagged documents crossing the border.

Rod McDonald, CIO of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he hopes RFID technology can still be used in some part of the US-VISIT program.

“Unfortunately, the pilot was unsuccessful at reaching a reasonable read rate,” he said. “We’re still interested in RFID, but we have to look for some alternative.”

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