DHS bares upgrades to immigration, travel databases

The Homeland Security Department has unveiled several important upgrades to databases that collectively contain tens of millions of personal records concerning immigration and travel.

Some of the changes are intended to foster information sharing among organizations inside DHS as well as with outside government agencies. Others aim to reorganize the databases internally so as to make them easier to use.

The database changes came to light via a Federal Register notice today in which DHS announced the online availability of 14 separate Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) concerning new projects. Not all of the 14 PIAs cover information technology-related projects.

One significant upgrade was Citizenship and Immigration Services' (CIS) announcement of a new Person Centric Query (PCQ) Service. The PCQ is designed to provide its users access to a consolidated view of all the information about an individual in selected CIS and State Department databases.

'This new service will improve efficiency of user searches, facilitate information sharing, increase the quality and accuracy of the underlying data and increase the security of the information being shared among systems,' the department said in today's notice.

A second PIA notice from the immigration management covered CIS' massive Central Index System, which holds data on about 57 million applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits.

'This PIA addresses the current status of [the index system], and will be updated accordingly as additional USCIS applications and system functionalities are added to [the database],' the department said.

CIS announced pending upgrades in its politically sensitive Verification Information System (VIS), which plays a crucial role in assuring that job seekers are eligible to work in this country.

VIS acts as a composite source of information from multiple DHS databases. It funnels information to two other CIS databases, the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program and the Employment Eligibility Verification/Basic Pilot Program that companies use to screen new employees. The SAVE program assures that persons who apply for federal benefits such as student loans are legal residents.

The department's privacy reports also provided details about the 'Biometrics at Sea' Mona Passage Proof of Concept Update, a project to improve the Coast Guard's transmission of fingerprint data from individuals, including would-be illegal entrants, stopped while in transit across the deadly sea lane between Haiti and Puerto Rico.

DHS described plans to build an 'enumeration' function into its pivotal Automated Biometric Identification System or IDENT database. The enumeration function will consolidate multiple methods of accessing a record about an individual by assigning a unique identifier to each person's record.

DHS also described details of CIS' new Enterprise Service Bus, a set of commercial software applications that provides a standardized infrastructure for information exchange across the agency's systems.

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