When Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff spoke at the World Travel and Tourism Summit in Washington, D.C., on April 11, he admitted that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, while aimed at protecting the U.S.’s borders, caused “a lot of concern not only in the travel industry, but a lot of concern in our border states and border communities; and concerns in Canada and Mexico and in other parts of the western hemisphere.”

WHTI--referred to as “Wheaty”-- mandates that starting December 31, 2006, all U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. from Canada via air or sea will need to present a valid U.S. passport or other secure travel document to re-enter the U.S. For return across a land border, the same rule will go into effect December 31, 2007.

Chertoff said, “But what we’re looking to do here is not to impose a passport requirement on people who want to come in and out of the country through the western hemisphere. What we’re looking to do is to find a way to come up with a travel document that will be convenient, inexpensive, satisfy the requirements of the law, increase our security, but in fact, make it more efficient for people to come and go in and out of this country as literally hundreds of thousands do every single day.”

He added that one of the new approaches to travel documentation is the People Access Security Service, or PASS system. “Essentially, this would be a kind of a driver’s license, wallet-sized card; a simple identification card that would have a biometric--some kind of computer chip, be very convenient, and allow us to make sure that we know who is coming across the border, but not something that would require people to carry around a lot of documentation.”

Chertoff said his department is working with the Department of State to produce the PASS card by early next year. “This will be an important first step in implementing a broader shared vision for a user-friendly system that will also include at some point a trusted traveler program that will allow people to have even more efficient access back and forth in the country.”

In addition, Chertoff said, “we want to create a global enrollment network that will unify all individual traveler programs into a single comprehensive system that will be the overall PASS system. Again, the idea is to really build an architecture that lets people carry a single card and satisfy all kinds of different needs that we’re going to have to protect security in the 21st century.”

For a recording of Chertoff's presentation, click here.

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