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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  


25 January 2005

U.S. Plans Test of Radio Technology in Border Management

Method could enhance security and facilitate legitimate travel

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is about to test radio technology that will allow the automatic recording of visitors’ arrival and departure at U.S. borders.

If successful, the technology will be incorporated into the US-VISIT system, which strives to make the borders more secure at the same time it allows foreign visitors swift and efficient processing as they enter the United States.

“Through the use of radio frequency technology, we see the potential to not only improve the security of our country, but also to make the most important infrastructure enhancements to the U.S. land borders in more than fifty years,” said DHS Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson in a January 25 press release. “Working with our border partners, we intend to see that it’s done in the right way and at the right pace,” Hutchinson added.

Radio frequency technology is what allows a car owner to unlock his vehicle from some distance away. It is also employed at highway tollbooths to allow frequent travelers faster passage through the gates. 

Further information about the technology is available at http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/press_release/press_release_0602.xml

The text of the DHS press release follows:

(begin text)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security


Homeland Security Announces Plans to Test Radio Frequency Technology at Land Borders

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010
January 25, 2005


Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security for the United States Department of Homeland Security, announced today that US VISIT is continuing to improve the border management system by planning tests of radio frequency (RF) technology at the U.S. land border.

“We are driven by a vision of the way our borders can and should operate in the future, and that future is getting closer and closer with every layer of US-VISIT we deploy,” said Under Secretary Hutchinson.  “Through the use of radio frequency technology, we see the potential to not only improve the security of our country, but also to make the most important infrastructure enhancements to the US land borders in more than fifty years.  Working with our border partners, we intend to see that it’s done in the right way and at the right pace,” Hutchinson continued.  

The technology will be tested at a simulated port this spring.  By July 31, 2005, the testing will begin at the ports of Nogales East and Nogales West in Arizona; Alexandria Bay in New York; and, Pacific Highway and Peace Arch in Washington.  The testing or “proof of concept” phase is expected to continue through the spring of 2006.  

The optimal technology will allow for a unique and automatic identifier issued to pedestrians and visitors crossing in vehicles.  The benefits of deploying RF technology at the land border allows for the automatic recording of visitors’ arrival and departure.  The test of this technology is designed to occur in multiple ports that illustrate various weather and traffic conditions.  

At land ports of entry, US VISIT entry procedures are already expediting the inspection time at the secondary inspection area.  The entry procedures are now operational at the 50 busiest land ports of entry, 115 airports and 15 seaports, and more than 17.5 million foreign visitors have been processed through US-VISIT without adversely impacting wait times. Because of US-VISIT biometric technology, the United States has arrested or denied admission to more than 407 people.

The goals of US-VISIT are to enhance the security of our citizens and visitors; facilitate legitimate travel and trade; ensure the integrity of our immigration system; and protect the privacy of our visitors.

US-VISIT is a continuum of security measures that begins overseas and continues through entry and exit.  Experience has shown that the US-VISIT enrollment process is fast, easy to understand and simple for visitors.  

For more information, visit www.dhs.gov/us-visit.

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Fact Sheet: Radio Frequency Identification Technology

What is Radio Frequency Identification Technology?

Radio frequency (RFID) identification technology refers to wireless systems that allow a device to read information contained in a wireless device or “tag” – from a distance without making any physical contact or requiring a line of sight between the two. It provides a method to transmit and receive data from one point to another.

RFID technology has been commercially available in one form or another since the 1970s. It is now part of our daily lives and can be found in car keys, highway toll tags and security access cards, as well as in environments where bar code labeling, which requires physical contact or a line of sight, is impractical or less effective. RFID has established itself in a wide range of markets including automated vehicle identification systems because of its ability to track moving objects.

There is no one definitive “RFID technology,” but, rather, an enormous range of technical solutions that vary in their complexity and cost, depending upon the functionality, packaging, and applications for which they are used.  

In its simplest form in common use today, a “passive” RFID system works as follows: an RFID reader transmits via its antenna an electromagnetic radio frequency signal to a passive RFID tag. The reader receives information back from the tag and sends it to a computer that controls the reader and processes the information that has been retrieved from the tag.  Passive tags do not have batteries and operate using the energy they receive from signals sent by a reader.

Application of RFID Technology to US VISIT

US VISIT is exploring the use of RFID technology as a tool that will better enable the program to fulfill its goals, which are to enhance the security of our citizens and visitors, facilitate legitimate travel and trade to and from the United States, ensure the integrity of our immigration system and protect the privacy of our visitors. RFID technology can improve the ability to match entries to exits without impacting processing time at the land borders and record arrivals and departures of a visitor in pedestrian and vehicle lanes – rapidly, accurately and reliably. It will also allow US VISIT to detect a visitor’s tag and provide the primary inspection process with information and a mechanism for establishing an accurate and timely record of exits without slowing a traveler through the process. Finally, RFID can also provide solutions that are not invasive and that protect the privacy of visitors.


As US VISIT moves toward improving the automated entry-exit system at the nation’s land border ports of entry, RFID technology offers a potential solution for an entry-exit operation that better facilitates legitimate travel and trade.

Protecting Privacy and Health Considerations

US VISIT will assure that our visitors’ information is always protected.  The RFID technology used by US-VISIT will safeguard sensitive information. The tags will not include visitors’ biographic or biometric information. Rather, they will contain only a serial code that links to a visitors’ information securely stored in databases used by US VISIT. It will also be tamper-proof and difficult to counterfeit. There are many other layers of defense to prevent information being used incorrectly including:

  • No personal information will be included on the tag
  • Information on the tag cannot be changed
  • The tag will only be activated once officially issued
  • Personal information is only processed over secure communication paths

These factors will render ineffective so-called “skimming,” the use of unauthorized reading devices to capture information from such tags. A serial code would be meaningless to any third party trying to collect that information.

Also, it will be impossible to “track” the whereabouts of someone holding such a passive tag without a corresponding reading device. Concerns about such tracking using passive RFID are perhaps confused with Global Positioning Satellite devices, which rely on a completely different technology from that used by RFID and will not be used by US VISIT.

Radio frequencies emanating from RFID tags are far below the levels that could cause any harm to human health and below the typical ambient radio frequencies most people are exposed to in the United States on a daily basis from devices such as TVs and radios. Like these other devices, RFID tags and readers are regulated and their safety is certified by the Federal Communications Commission.

US-VISIT continues to test technologies that will help it better achieve its mission to enhance security of our citizens and visitors while facilitating legitimate travel and trade across our borders.