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Homeland Security To Launch RFID Systems At Border Crossings

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  Published: July 28, 2005 By Beth Duff-Brown, The Associated Press
Five border posts with Canada and Mexico will get the systems, to track visitors driving in and out of the U.S.

TORONTO (AP) --The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will install radio frequency technology at five border posts with Canada and Mexico to track foreigners driving in and out of North America.

In its ongoing efforts to tighten border security and monitor possible terrorist and criminal activity, Bob Mocny of the Department of Homeland Security said the wireless chips for vehicles would become mandatory at designated border crossings in Canada and Mexico as of next Thursday.

“This is a major transformation of how we are going to be gathering information about entries and exits along the border,” Mocny said at a Wednesday news conference in Toronto. “The fundamental obligation of our government is to protect our citizens.”

After a foreigner entering the U.S. has passed a thorough security check once, they will be given a document containing the chip. This document will need to be renewed every six months.

The document is meant to be placed on the dashboard of a car so that a person's personal information can be read as they approach a border crossing.

Even with the radio frequency technology, however, the vehicle will still have to stop. If a person's identifying data produce no red flags, they will get just a cursory check at the border rather than lengthy questioning.

Canadians and Mexicans, who fall under special immigration rules, are exempt from needing the chip.

The mandatory program will apply, however, to all foreigners with U.S. visas--including those from the 27 countries whose citizens don't need visas for short U.S. visits--who cross into the United States at those points.

The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concern that the program violates privacy rights for “third country nationals” who fall under the program. Some immigrant groups also have argued that the technology would target Muslims and empower a growing society of surveillance.

But Homeland Security officials insist weeding out potential terrorists, drug dealers, and other criminals from the innocent shoppers, truckers, and tourists who regularly cross the borders is a must.

Members of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation met Wednesday with Mocny to discuss their concerns. They came away hoping the new technology may in fact help to fight racial and religious profiling.

Karen Mock, the foundation's executive director, said she hears stories of people with “Middle Eastern-sounding names or darker complexions” being stopped and questioned frequently. She said technology could help by eliminating the possibility of stereotyping.

“They are able to ensure that regardless of people's names or what other countries they've been visiting, that if they're frequent travelers and they've already been cleared and their data is fine, then they can move through it much more quickly,” Mock told The Canadian Press.

Radio frequency antennae have been installed at the border crossings at Thousand Islands Bridge in Alexandria Bay, New York; and Blaine, Washington, crossings for the Pacific Highway and Peace Arch. The technology will also be launched next week at two crossings between Mexico and Nogales, Arizona.

The radio frequency program--known as RFID--is an expansion of the US-VISIT program, which was launched last year at 115 airports, 15 sea ports, and 50 of the busiest land border crossings along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. Under the biometrics program, foreigners are fingerprinted and photographed and those details are fed into federal databases.

Mocny said some 35 million people have gone through the program, which is set to expand to another 115 land crossings along the Canadian and Mexican borders by the end of this year.

He said some 700 potential criminals with outstanding arrest warrants or whose activities raised red flags have been nabbed under the program that costs more than US$300 million (euro250 million) a year


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