Many U.S. and Canadian citizens will soon receive an improved and more secure version of a card that allows them quick passage over the region's four international bridges.
Starting next month, at no charge, cross-border travelers who already have NEXUS and FAST cards will begin receiving the next generation of government-issued cards under the Trusted Traveler Program, federal officials said Wednesday.
"The technology is similar to an E-ZPass on toll roads and the good news is there's no personal information on the embedded chip in the card. It transmits a number to the border checkpoint," said Stephen LeBlanc, an official with the U.S. Government Printing Office, which has been assigned the job of manufacturing the new cards.
The high-tech cards are replacing plastic cards that resemble bank cards. And the new cards join two other high-tech forms of cross-border identification currently available to Buffalo Niagara travelers -- the U.S. State Department's $45 passport card and New York State's enhanced driver's license, which costs about $30 more than the average $50 license.
All of these forms of identity, along with passports, are compliant with the federal law known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires improved identification documents to enter the United States starting June 1, 2009.
The new NEXUS and FAST cards, which permit access to specially designated lanes at the international crossings, feature an embedded, ultrahigh-frequency chip and antenna that transmits a number to the computer at the border-crossing checkpoint.
Using that number, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer can then access a secured database that brings up the cardholder's facial image and other identification information that can be compared with the card bearer as he or she is screened by the officer.
To qualify for the Trusted Traveler Program, prospective cardholders in the United States and Canada must pass a background check and be deemed low-risk travelers.
Anyone applying for the first time or reapplying because the card's five-year issuance is expiring will be required to pay the existing fee of $50. Children younger than 18 are free. NEXUS cards are for private citizens and FAST cards cover commercial truckers.
Making the cards difficult to alter or duplicate, according to Robert C. Tapella, head of the printing office, are security features that include special ink, laser-engraved data, micro printing and an advanced hologram.
"The Government Printing Office is the state-of-the-art provider in meeting the growing demand for secure federal credentials," Tapella said. "The GPO employees have been producing the nation's passports since the 1920s and now the agency will add a new line of business by not only printing the Trusted Traveler cards, but personalizing them, too."
In the past, Trusted Traveler cards were produced by U.S. and Canadian border authorities at different enrollment centers near the borders. The enhanced cards will be issued and mailed from the GPO's Secure Card Personalization Center in Washington, D.C.