Tracking system on fast track

HSD secretary Tom Ridge says the US Visit system will use data and biometrics to keep track of people who enter the United States.

Olivier Douliery

The Homeland Security Department has renamed the Entry-Exit System for tracking people who cross the border into the United States the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology system, or US Visit.

The department plans to release a solicitation for the system shortly, Secretary Tom Ridge said. The name change is one of several recent IT developments at Homeland Security, including a funding increase, the naming of senior officials and a regulatory proposal to limit data access.

'US Visit will be in its first phase of operation at international air and sea ports of entry by the end of 2003,' Ridge told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington late last month.

'This system will be capable of using information, coupled with biometric identifiers such as photographs, fingerprints or iris scans, to create an electronic check-in, check-out system for people who come to the United States to work, stay or visit,' he said. 'US Visit will also provide a tool to U.S. law enforcement to find those visitors who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas.'

A department spokeswoman confirmed that US Visit is the renamed Entry-Exit System, which has been in planning for more than a year and for which the former Immigration and Naturalization Service hired BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., to help with the program's design and procurement.

After his speech, Ridge said he expects Homeland Security to issue a request for proposals for the system within the next 45 to 60 days.

Meanwhile, the department received $6.71 billion more for fiscal 2003 under a supplemental appropriation:
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  • The Transportation Security Administration received $665 million for modifications to commercial airports and port security.

  • The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement got $170 million, partly to help develop the US Visit system.

  • The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection's Container Security Initiative, which involves building systems to track containers shipped to the United States, received $35 million.

  • The Coast Guard got $628 million to defray costs arising from the service's participation in the Iraq war and Operation Liberty Shield, an enhanced domestic security program launched March 17 and ended a month later.

  • The department also has filled several high-ranking positions in recent weeks.
    President Bush appointed Air Force Gen. John Gordon to be the White House homeland security adviser. Gordon will succeed Ridge in the job of running the White House Homeland Security Office.

    Gordon is a former deputy CIA director who worked on the National Security Council staff in President George H.W. Bush's administration.

    Nuala O'Connor Kelly, a veteran of privacy work in the public and private sectors, became the department's first privacy officer.

    O'Connor Kelly formerly was the privacy officer, chief counsel for technology and deputy director for policy and planning at the Commerce Department. Before that, she was vice president for data protection and chief privacy officer for the online advertising agency DoubleClick Inc. of New York.

    'I think it is a good appointment,' said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, and a privacy advocate. 'I think Nuala has a track record on privacy. She knows the privacy issues.'

    Just as it was naming a privacy offer, the department proposed rules under which it would shield from public disclosure the systems information it receives from the private sector.
    The proposed rule explicitly applies to hardware and software that makes up critical-infrastructure systems.

    Companies have been wary of submitting information to the department for many reasons, including the possibility that their competitors could access commercially vital data.
    Comments on the proposal are due by June 16 and can be submitted via e-mail to cii.regcomment@dhs.gov.

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