Homeland Security RFID Declaration Means Little

For retail RFID observers, the comment late last week from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that his department was abandoning RFID for one aspect of border protection should have been big news. Upon closer examination, it's really not.

The saga started last Friday when a major wire service reported that Homeland Security was abandoning RFID across the entire mega-department. On Monday, Homeland Security clarified that the comments were limited to the exit portion of its VISIT border control effort. Even so, if Homeland Security was abandoning RFID for that important program because of "unsuccessful" tests, those results should give pause to others.

One key official with the VISIT program, however, said the reasons stepping back from RFID for the program weren't for reasons that should concern others.

One concern, for example, is that people were supposed to hold the card up to seen by a reader, which was considered too much of a hassle for many. But that was a program requirement from the beginning so it's not an RFID fault. Another concern was a language problem in the Southwest border, which was also nothing that RFID had much to do with.

The only technological concern was that the tags being used were running Gen1 RFID, when the industry standard is now Gen2. That was because Gen1 was state-of-the-art when the tests began in 2005.

Asked why the department hadn't instead simply upgraded to Gen2, the official said that might indeed happen. Given that, we asked if Chertoff's comment that the department was "abandoning" RFID for VISIT was somewhat of an overstatement. The official paused and promised to get back to us. We?re still waiting.