U.S. Visit expanding to land crossings

The Homeland Security Department plans to expand the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system this month to the nation's 50 busiest land border entry points.

The move will extend the biometric identity verification program to cover a much larger percentage of the 600 million annual entries to the country, Patricia Cogswell, chief strategist for DHS' Border and Transportation Security Directorate, said Wednesday.

'U.S. Visit is overlying a system that is very complex,' Cogswell said at the e-Gov Institute's homeland security conference in Washington.

The goal of the program is to improve the performance of existing identity management systems at borders and ports of entry by automating the process with the use of biometrics.

'We can't tell you right now effectively in all categories where people have entered and when they have left,' Cogswell said.

U.S. Visit uses two flat digital fingerprint scans and a full-face digital image to confirm a visitor's identity and check it against watch lists. The fingerprint is the primary biometric tool and the facial image is secondary. Cogswell said the fingerprints have a 96 percent accuracy rate, according to studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

'We are under one-tenth of one percent for false positives that have to be examined by a fingerprint examiner,' she said.

U.S. Visit now is implemented at 151 airports and 15 seaports. Rollout to the busiest land crossing points is just beginning. The top 50 sites are to be equipped by the end of the month. All 165 land crossing points are to be included in the program by the end of next year.

Cogswell said most of the large crossing sites already have network connections. The biggest job in initiating U.S. Visit will be changing the process from paper-based to online for secondary examination of selected travelers.

Cogswell said fingerprinting is the only biometric technology now mature enough to meet DHS standards for the program. But technology is developing rapidly, and the department hopes eventually to integrate multiple biometric features to cross-check identities.

The current challenge to the program is response time in checking identities against watch lists. The program standard is a 10-second return time, and this can be achieved only using internal databases.

To ensure adequate performance, fingerprint checks are processed within the U.S. Visit system against an extract of the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

'In our environment, 15 seconds is not fast enough,' Cogswell said. She said there is a great market opportunity for technology that could speed biometric searching and matching against outside databases.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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