airport check in (Africa Studio/

DHS officials push digital, biometrics for efficiency

From fiscal year 2009 to 2016, the Department of Homeland Security has seen international air travel processing increase by 35.9 percent, forcing the department to invest in digital innovations to keep up with the rising demand for services.

“We have a very successful Investigative Case Management (ICM) project that we are just now taking from initial operating capability to full operating capability by the end of the year,” Daniel Ragsdale, deputy director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at the May 10 Law Enforcement and Public Safety Technology Forum hosted by the Bethesda, Md., chapter of Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

ICM replaces a system developed in 1987 by the former U.S. Customs Service and currently administered by Customs and Border Protection.

“We have other business systems that are antiquated related to keeping capital and financial information, including our immigration enforcement legal system,” Ragsdale said.  “We have a strong mandate, but it is a question of how we use technology to make processes more efficient.”

Other capabilities to enhance customs enforcement and make it easier for international travelers involve storing biometrics data and surveillance.

“We are working on facial recognition in a program being done in Atlanta, which has been really sunny for us with high match rates,” Daniel Tanciar, deputy executive director of CBP’s policy, program analysis and evaluation office of field operations, said. 

Tanciar explained CBP’s biometrics efforts as a way to make it more convenient for both travelers and airport employees who are required to show and review passports at various points throughout the check-in process.

“We realized that we could pull that data and have a small gallery of evidence so travelers don’t need to show their documents so many times,” Tanciar said.  “That is the future, and we also make it work … for inbound processing.”

William Snelson, associate director for operations at the U.S. Marshals Service, also sees biometrics as a way to move his law enforcement agency forward, but he acknowledged the “need to get better at technology.”

“It is going to be extraordinarily difficult to hide witnesses in plain sight with biometrics,” Snelson said.  “The explosion of information on the web about individuals that we protect and the inability of those individuals to lessen their profile doesn’t help us.  It is going to be a big conversation moving forward.”

In the age of increased scrutiny over incidents with police, Snelson said electronic surveillance is becoming a larger issue for the Marshals Service.

“It’s very hard for the Marshals Service to deal with privacy concerns and be able to keep up with the need to arrest individuals,” Snelson said.  “We have to be on safe side but also do those interactions in a polite and professional manner -- so it is a balance.”

As devices become more enmeshed in the internet of things, mobility also becomes a larger concern for law enforcement officials.

“With the Christmas Day bomber in 2009, we realized that we need to able to have more information available through connectivity with mobility,” Tanciar said.  “But we need to work on how to figure out the signal and interference gaps.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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