October 29, 2003

Immigration and Homeland Security

Department of Homeland Security announced plans for a high-tech system

USATODAY.com - Soon, new rules for foreigners

Soon, new rules for foreigners
By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON Millions of foreign visitors to the United States, already under strict scrutiny since the 2001 terrorist attacks, soon will have to be fingerprinted and photographed to get through the nation's airports and seaports.
The electronic fingerprint scanner will allow inspectors to check identities of visitors against those on terrorist watch lists.
By Stephen J. Boitano, AP

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans for a high-tech system that will help track the 24 million foreigners who enter the country with work, student or travel visas each year.

Congress ordered the system after the Sept. 11 attacks, when officials learned that two of the 19 hijackers had violated the terms of their visas. The program's goal is to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country and to register foreigners who are allowed in. It also requires foreigners to check out when they leave so officials can look for people who stay after their visas expire.

The program replaces a controversial measure that required people in the United States from 25 mostly Muslim countries to register with the government.

Asa Hutchinson, head of border security at the department, called it a "dramatic step forward" in tightening security.

But airport managers and travel industry officials say they're concerned that the program will cause delays and discourage tourism. Civil libertarians worry that the information collected won't stay private.

The first part of the new entry-exit system will be launched at 115 airports and 14 major seaports on Jan. 5. Border agents will use a digital camera on a desktop tripod and an electronic fingerprint machine not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes to collect biometric information. The data will be compared with lists of known and suspected terrorists and other lawbreakers. Within seconds, the agent's computer will indicate whether there was a "hit."

Foreigners from 27 countries deemed low-risk will not have to be photographed or fingerprinted. But they will have biometric information put in chips in their passports by late 2004.

The exit part of the new system will require visitors to go to a self-service kiosk, swipe their passports and provide their fingerprints. The kiosks will operate at only about 30 airports in January. Officials said the technology for that part of the program is still being developed.

The most difficult part of the program setting up the system at border crossings must be done by 2005. It will be complicated and expensive because there are no lanes or booths for agents to check people on their way out of the country. Studies show that adding an exit system could add hours of waiting time.

Congress, concerned about how the program was being managed, cut its funding this year. President Bush requested $480 million for 2004; Congress approved $330 million.

Rick Webster of the Travel Industry Association said his group supports the idea of registering foreign visitors. But he expressed concern that there may not be "enough equipment, personnel and training to support expeditious processing."

If people face three or four-hour waits at airports, he said, "it only adds another disincentive for people to come here."





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Posted by Craig at October 29, 2003 04:09 PM