Is it data or deception? US-VISIT needs to know.

Followers of world affairs will recall that at some point in recent history Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung’s name suddenly became Mao Zedong and Peking became Beijing. And there never has been an agreed spelling of former Libyan dictator Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. Was it Mohummar Qaddafi? Or Muhamar Khaddafi?

Such spelling transliteration issues are one reason why US-VISIT’s millions of fingerprint records of all immigrants coming into the United States include about 825,000 immigrants’ fingerprint records that have multiple names and inconsistent birth dates, according to a NextGov report.

“Although most of the inconsistencies can be attributable to data input issues, US-VISIT is unable to quantify the extent to which the same individuals provided different biographical data to circumvent controls and enter the United States improperly,” Frank Deffer, Homeland Security Department assistant inspector general, wrote in a report released this week.

And although the database holds hundreds of millions of fingerprint records, and the irregularities represent just 0.2 percent of the data, Deffer said the volume of records makes the discrepancies significant.

Transliteration mistakes aren't the only reason for the inconsistent records, of course. “In some cases, we found that individuals used different biographic identities at a port of entry after they had applied for a visa under a different name, or been identified as a recidivist alien," Deffer is quoted as saying.

“In one example, the same set of fingerprints was associated with nine different names and nine different birthdates in 10 attempts to enter the United States,” he wrote.

The auditors’ study, which examined records from 1998 through 2011, also found that nearly 400,000 records for women whose last name differed from their first name, birth date and fingerprint ID number. “These instances are likely women who changed their name after marriage,” Deffer said.

According to NextGov, US-VISIT is currently expanding its database so eventually it will ID travelers using iris and facial recognition. Program spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman was quoted as saying the agency “is testing new tools, technologies and approaches to integrate US-VISIT’s biometric and biographic applications into a comprehensive set of automated services.”

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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