US deploys e-passport readers

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently completed deployment of e-Passport readers at San Francisco International Airport. Installation of the new readers is the first in a series of deployments that will continue at U.S. airports through the next few weeks to meet the October 26, 2006, congressional deadline requiring U.S. ports of entry to compare and authenticate data in e-Passports issued by Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries.

Deployment of e-Passport readers is the next step in a process to further enhance the security of international travel documents while continuing to facilitate the flow of legitimate travel and trade to the United States. An e-Passport securely identifies the individual, defends against identity theft, protects privacy and makes it difficult for individuals to cross borders using fraudulent documents.

The e-Passport carries the international e-Passport symbol on the cover and contains a contactless chip with the passport holder’s biographic information and a biometric identifier, such as a digital photograph of the holder. All e-Passports issued by VWP countries and the United States have a critical security feature which prevents the unauthorized reading or “skimming” of data stored on the chip.

The U.S. Border Security Act of 2002 requires that passports issued by VWP countries on or after October 26, 2006, must be e-Passports to be valid for entry into the United States without a visa. These e-Passports must comply with technical standards established by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The Act also requires that U.S. ports of entry have the capability to compare and authenticate data from e-Passports.

When applying to enter the United States, travelers who have a valid machine-readable passport with a digital photograph do not need to obtain a new e-Passport until the existing passport expires, if the digital photograph passport was issued before October 26, 2006.

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The inspection process at a U.S. port of entry does not change for an e- Passport holder. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers will have the ability to read the e-Passports’ chip at inspection booths displaying the international e-Passport symbol.

During the past two years, the U.S. government has been involved in efforts, largely through the ICAO, to work with VWP countries to test and perfect technical standards making e-Passports interoperable with readers at U.S. ports of entry.

The 27 countries participating in the VWP include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Approximately 13 million people each year travel to the United States under the VWP to study, conduct business, visit family or tour the country.
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