As 9-11 nears, INS set to test new entry app

On Wednesday, a special midweek issue of GCN will look at the way Sept. 11 changed the federal IT landscape'the people, technology and policies.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by launching a new fingerprint identification system it hopes will help prevent more attacks.

INS will roll out the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, the first phase of the congressionally mandated Entry-Exit System, at a select number of land and sea ports. During a 20-day evaluation, border agents will use the system to match prints from subjects' index fingers against the FBI's criminal and other wanted-persons databases and INS' newly created database of suspected terrorists.

Once the test is complete, INS will expand the system's use to more than 100 airports and 200 land and sea ports.

INS border guards have used the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System on a limited basis since Jan. 1 and are averaging about 70 hits per week on wanted persons trying to enter the country.

The NSEERS system will search the INS' IDENT system, the list of wanted persons from IAFIS, which the Justice Department sends every two weeks to INS, and the terrorist database. INS agents also will take digital photographs of everyone it checks.

INS bureaus mainly have used IDENT for tracking immigrants who attempt repeated border crossings from Mexico.

'We will have a system that stops high-risk people at the border and gets back answers in less than three minutes if they are known terrorists,' a senior Justice official said. 'This first element is critical because we can take two fingerprints, and we will know if they are a criminal, wanted person or suspected terrorist very quickly.'

INS estimates it will fingerprint about 100,000 nonimmigrant visitors a year using NSEERS.

Connecting systems

The first phase of NSEERS will cost between $50 million and $100 million. The administration requested $362 million for the Entry-Exit Program in fiscal 2003.

The FBI and INS have been discussing integrating their fingerprint databases since 1997. In 2000, INS allocated $7.2 million for the project and set a completion date of 2006.

An INS official said late last month his bureau started testing software to connect IDENT and IAFIS. INS and the FBI plan to integrate the systems by early next year, and INS officials will be able to search and populate both databases simultaneously, the official said.

IDENT, which INS created in 1994, is a client-server application using an Oracle8i database to store more than 12 million sets of fingerprints and digital photographs.

INS will equip ports of entry participating in the test, which the Justice official refused to name due to security concerns, with fingerprint scanners from either Cross Match Technologies Inc. of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., or Identix Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn.

INS IT workers have been adding fields to the IDENT database and improving front-end workflow processes to prepare the clients for NSEERS, the INS official said.

INS will continue to modify NSEERS over the next few years. Soon, INS wants to start recording 10 fingerprints instead of two, the Justice official said.

INS also plans to tie NSEERS to the Arrival Departure Information System, run by the airlines, which records information about visitors from countries requiring a visa to enter the United States. It will collect information such as purpose of visit, arrival date, expected departure date and address where a person is staying.

'If the visitor fails to depart when they are supposed to, we can feed their information to local and state police, who then will have it if the visitor is picked up for a something like a traffic violation,' the Justice official said.

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