WASHINGTON – One card would serve as a border pass, a driver's license and a security ID for entering federal buildings. It would include not just your name and picture, but your fingerprints and DNA.
Just don't call it a national ID card.
The Homeland Security Department is planning border crossing cards for Americans re-entering the country from Canada and Mexico. Officials hope to start issuing the PASS (for People Access Security Service) cards by the end of 2006, but will not require them for an additional year.
A PASS card may also one day carry driver's license and other identification information, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.
But he told reporters, "I don't think it's a national ID card." Critics fear such a card could violate privacy rights.
"It seems to me that we ought to try to be building toward an architecture where one card can do a number of different things for somebody so you don't have to carry 10 cards," he said.
The card is an alternative to post-Sept. 11 requirements that U.S. residents show their passports to re-enter from Canada and Mexico by the end of 2007.
Currently, U.S. residents coming into the country from Mexico or Canada usually only need to show a driver's license or birth certificate that proves nationality.
The proposal still would require passports or certain other secure ID documents from Canadians, Mexicans and other foreign citizens entering the United States.
Canadian officials have criticized both the passport plan and the PASS cards as costly and cumbersome requirements that could thwart cross-border traffic and hurt the economy in border towns.
A PASS card, which officials estimated will cost half the price of a $97 passport, will include a digital photo of its owner. But the Homeland Security Department anticipates it will hold other biometric information, such as fingerprints or even DNA data, in the future.
Privacy rights experts are keeping a close watch on the plan for fear that personal information could be vulnerable.
"Just like a Social Security number can get copied today, a fingerprint could get copied tomorrow," said Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University and former Clinton administration privacy official. "And it's real hard to get a new fingerprint."
Addressing concerns about privacy rights, Chertoff said the new cards would do a better job of preventing identity theft than current drivers' licenses.
"Anybody who thinks that the existing driver's license is a robust privacy-protected form of ID is delusional," Chertoff said. "It is not. You go back to 9/11 to see that, you can look at your own driver's licenses. We ought to be moving to something that is more secure."