Renewed Push to Collect Exit Data at Airports, Land Crossings

By Stew Magnuson
Travelers arriving at a port of entry in the United States are greeted by a Customs and Border Protection official, who checks passports and stamps them if required.
That is the not the case when departing.

The United States has never required foreigners to present their travel documents before leaving so authorities can’t be certain who is or isn’t overstaying a visa, a flaw that Congress has mandated that the executive branch remedy as far back as 1996. Three other post-9/11 acts demanded that DHS develop an exit system.

Two industry trade associations are now calling on DHS to make a stronger effort to fulfill the congressional mandate to collect exit data.

Improvements to biometric technology over the past few years will make collecting exit data easier, said a joint statement from the Security Industry Association and Secure Identity and Biometric Association.

DHS tried some pilot programs in the middle of the previous decade. Kiosks at airports where travelers could voluntarily scan their passport did not work. They were hard to find, and airports were loath to give up space in their concourses, which are devoted to profit-making stores and restaurants.

A plan to force airlines to collect the data on CBP’s behalf was met with widespread resistance from airlines, which said it would make check-in lines longer. 

At land border crossings, there was a pilot program that implanted radio-frequency identification chips in travel documents, which could be scanned as travelers departed in vehicle or on foot. That didn’t work out, either.

The two associations have formed a working group to advise DHS and released an “Identity and Biometric Entry and Exit Solutions Framework for Airports.”

“The framework makes clear that the implementation of [an] airport biometric exit program and improvements to biometric entry processes are not only doable and capable of meeting essential border control criteria, but are long overdue,” the statement said.

After years of apparent inactivity tackling the issue, DHS in April kicked off a new effort to solve the problem, at least at airports. The Air/Exit Re-engineering Project is being administered by CBP and the Science and Technology Directorate.

“The initial objective of this project is to test, evaluate and develop options to implement biometric entry and exit options that will improve screening and verifying the identities of foreign nationals entering or exiting the United States through U.S. airports,” a DHS document describing the program said.

One proposal is to have passengers as they walk down a jet bridge look up at a camera that can do facial recognition. The two agencies are currently studying this and other ideas, the document said.


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