Border Patrol agents, working in desert and other remote areas, test portable PCs

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is testing portable computer systems to help
Border Patrol agents do fingerprint identification and voice data entry.


The lightweight systems have ruggedized cases for temperature extremes and rough
treatment in the desert.


About 8,000 Border Patrol agents make more than 1 million apprehensions each year, said
Fernanda Young, INS assistant commissioner in the Data Systems Division. Agents patrol
8,000 miles of international boundaries by aircraft, boat and vehicle, on horseback and on
foot. INS hires about 1,000 agents per year, she said.


The agents are testing 30 notebook PCs from Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.
and other makers. The notebooks have 90-MHz Pentium processors, at least 16M RAM and
Microsoft Windows 95. Most weigh 31'2 to 4 pounds, she said.


After the evaluation is finished in November, INS will deploy notebooks to a larger
group of border agents. The total budget is about $6 million through fiscal 2000, Young
said. In addition, agents’ desktop PCs will be replaced with notebooks.


The current program budget of $500,000 covers development, testing and evaluation, she
said.


“The demand is huge,” Young said, “particularly in an area like Tucson,
Ariz., where agents have to drive for several hours” to fingerprint and process
undocumented border crossers and return them to the Mexican border.


Initially, the rugged notebooks are going to areas such as Tucson that have the most
immediate need, she said. Border Patrol agents run a fingerprint identification system
that requires no training because they already use such a system on desktop PCs, Young
said. Each notebook has a fingerprint capture peripheral attached.


Agents can search up to 2 million records through Live-ID, automated fingerprint ID
software from Cogent Systems Inc. of Alhambra, Calif., and an Oracle7 Release 7.3
relational database.


Live-ID can identify up to 1,000 unique points on a fingerprint per second and run a
pattern-recognition algorithm, she said. The system shows the probability percentile of an
undocumented border crosser’s fingerprint matching a database record.


The notebook PCs connect to cellular telephones and have token-ring network cards.
Users must enter passwords to log into the Cogent system.


To round out their profiles of undocumented border crossers and eliminate the need to
type entries outdoors, INS officials are testing several voice input software packages to
fill in fields such as name, date of birth and height.


The voice packages under evaluation include Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Natural
Speech Co. of Newton, Mass., and IBM Corp.’s ViaVoice.


INS officials also are looking for cell phone companies that can supply Web surfing
capability, Young said.


INS supervised the passage of 484 million travelers through immigration inspections at
25 ports of entry last year. It has used biometric palmprint recognition for frequent
international travelers at airports in New Jersey, New York and Virginia for some time,
Young said.


Also, voice recognition software lets commuters who live within 25 kilometers of either
side of the Canadian border cross after the usual 10 p.m. closing time, she said. 

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