A controversial effort by the Department of Homeland security to create a biometric computer system to keep tabs on all foreigners entering and leaving the country is drawing increasing flak at home and abroad.
US-VISIT, which began in 2004, requires foreigners entering the United States — even those from friendly nations — to have their photos taken, provide travel itineraries and give their fingerprints. This information then is crosschecked with a host of federal and state agencies to ascertain whether the person trying to enter the country requires further investigation.
The program has angered some visitors and their home governments, who complain that it unnecessarily complicates foreigners’ travel plans and constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
Some members of Congress worried that tighter border security might be tough on U.S. residents returning to this country. “I caution DHS against enacting burdensome requirements that will adversely affect Western New York families and businesses,” warned Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y.
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, however, dismissed such concerns. In April, he told the World Travel and Tourism Summit, meeting in Washington, D.C., that US-VISIT was making a solid contribution to homeland security and is worth the trouble.
“Since 2004, we have processed more than 52 million travelers, and have intercepted more than 1,000 individuals with prior immigration violations and others suspected of murder, rape, drug trafficking and other violent crimes,” he said. “And we have been able to screen those people out without making long waiting lines for people who are trying to use US-VISIT.”
In fact, Chertoff said, one way to resolve some of the complaints about the program is to seek even more information about foreign travelers. “For example, sometimes adding a date of birth or an address to a screening tool allows us to remove most of the people from a pool of individuals who might share a name with a terrorist.”
In coming years, the single largest area of growth will be in information technology, said Mathew Farr, lead homeland security analyst for Frost & Sullivan’s aerospace and defense group.
“Actionable intelligence is the buzzword around border security, and DHS’ secure border initiative is expected to create a need for an enormous amount of information to be collected, disseminated, analyzed and then stored seamlessly within an extremely quick time frame.”
Deployment of technologies that can perform such functions “have only political upsides,” Farr said. “Overall, the products that are benefiting from increased border security are surveillance equipment, biometrics, information technology, air assets, sensors and detection equipment.”