Travelers exiting U.S. will have fingerprints scanned

Published 29 May 2009

DHS relaunches a project to scan the fingerprints of international travelers leaving the united States; CBP will take fingerprints exiting the United States from Detroit, while TSA will do the same in Atlanta

DHS is set to kickstart a controversial new pilot to scan the fingerprints of travelers departing the United States. From June, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will take a fingerprint scan of international travelers exiting the United States from Detroit, while the U.S. Transport Security Administration (TSA) will take fingerprint scans of international travelers exiting the United States from Atlanta.

Biometric technology such as fingerprint scans has been used by CBP for several years to gain a biometric record of non-U.S. citizens entering the United States. Under the Bush administration, a plan was formulated to also scan outgoing passengers.

ITNEws’s Brett Winterford reports that Michael Hardin, a senior policy analyst with the US-VISIT Program at the DHS told a Biometrics Institute conference the other day that the DHS will use the data from the trial to “inform us as to where to take [exit screening] next.” “We are trying to ensure we know more about who came and who left,” he said. “We have a large population of illegal immigrants in the United States - we want to make sure the person getting on the plane really is the person the records show to be leaving.”

The original exit scanning legislation planned by the Bush administration stipulated that airlines would be responsible for conducting the exit fingerprints, but after criticism (see 15 December 2008 HS Daily Wire), Hardin said the new Obama administration reconsidered this legislation two weeks ago and is “not as sold that private sector should be agency for exit fingerprints.” “The new administration feels that perhaps it is more appropriate that Government should take that role.”

A role for mobile biometrics?
Winterford writes that the exit fingerprint scanning is one of several fronts in which the DHS is using biometric technology to secure U.S. borders. Every day, the US-VISIT scheme uses fingerprint scans to enroll or verify the identity of 86,400 visitors to the United States. These scans are conducted on a purpose-built, cube-shaped fingerprint scanner. “We specified to vendors, it had to be no more than 6 x 6 x 6 inches - it had to fit on counter and light enough to walk around with,” Hardin said. “We also told them the reader light had to be green - people tend to think red is hot to touch.”

DHS is now testing whether it can adapt the same biometric technology to enroll or verify identities from remote locations using wireless connectivity.

Hardin said the DHS is seeking an identity verification system for the U.S. Coast Guard, which tends to operate in a difficult environmental conditions.

We’ll do this the way we did the Cube at customs - we will go to the industry with some specifications and say, if you build it we’ll buy it.”

RF identity cards trial
DHS is also set to launch a trial of RF-enabled biometric identity cards on 1 June, aimed at securing the border between the United States and Canada (see 27 May HS Daily Wire). U.S. and Canadian citizens will be authenticated to travel between the two countries using identity cards fitted with radio-frequency embedded chips.

Hardin said Americans and Canadians have traditionally been able to travel between the two nations with little fuss. Since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, however, DHS has insisted on the use of a passport, passport card, drivers license, or some other form of documentation approved by U.S. States or Canadian provinces to verify identity.

As of 1 June, travelers crossing the border will be asked to carry an RF-enabled card which transmits a passport photo image and information about the traveler to border control staff systems, who can then check that photograph against the physical appearance of the traveler or their vehicle.