The head of the Homeland Security Department's visitor tracking program on Tuesday called for the creation of a "global ID management system" to make travel easier while enhancing security.
Jim Williams, director of the US VISIT program within DHS, told attendees of the National Business Travel Association's annual meeting he is aware of the plight of the business traveler. Even he, despite his senior position in the department, once found himself temporarily unable to board a plane because he shared the name of an individual on a terrorist watch list, he said.
Williams said he wants to join forces with several DHS agencies to develop a global identification system that would cut wait times, reduce government fees for travelers, fight illegal immigration and, perhaps paramount, better defend nations from terrorists.
The US VISIT chief, who already oversees identity inquiries for nearly every visitor who enters the United States, said a worldwide identification system will better link nations in the fight against terrorism. In his speech, he likened al Qaeda operatives and sleeper cells - including the ones that attacked on 9/11 - to "submarines" that must surface to kill.
"In order for them to do what they want to do, they have to travel," Williams said.
He did not specify when, or how, the proposed global program would be implemented.
Williams suggested that a biometrics identification system might be used to better track travelers to the United States. A similar program is being tested in Great Britain, where such physical characteristics as fingerprints or iris scans are being tied to national identification cards. Proponents say it can cut the odds of success for immigration fraud.
Any program that can successfully ease both financial burdens and wait times for travelers will be welcomed with open arms, said Hank Roeder, vice president of global operations for the National Business Travel Association.
In his speech, Williams said an American version of the global ID plan would likely require the cooperation of US VISIT, the Customs and Border Protection bureau, the Transportation Safety Administration and U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, all under the DHS umbrella.
A TSA official declined to comment, saying the agency has no knowledge of the proposed plan. CBP and CIS could not be reached for comment.