Foreigners arriving at U.S. airports were photographed and had their fingerprints scanned Monday in the start of a government effort to use some of the latest surveillance technology to keep terrorists out of the country.
The program allows Customs officials to check passengers instantly against terrorist watch lists and a national criminal database.
The goal is to “make sure our borders are open to visitors but closed to terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.
[…] Under the new rules, travelers press their index fingers onto an inkless scanner and then have their photograph taken as they make their way through customs.
The security checks target foreigners entering the 115 U.S. airports that handle international flights, as well as 14 major seaports. The only exceptions will be visitors from 27 countries —- mostly European nations —- whose citizens are allowed to come to the United States for up to 90 days without visas.
Also exempted will be most Canadians, because they usually are not required to get visas, and Mexicans who are coming into the country for a short time and not venturing far from the border.
The program, called US-VISIT, or U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, is expected to check up to 24 million foreigners each year, though some will be repeat visitors.
[…] In a pilot program at Hartsfield-Jackson that preceded Monday’s nationwide implementation, authorities turned up 21 people on the FBI (news – web sites)’s criminal watch list for such crimes as drug offenses, rape and visa fraud, Ridge said.
Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger said that once screeners become proficient, the extra security will take 10 to 15 seconds per person.
[…] Under the program, photographs go into a law-enforcement database that eventually will allow users to pull up photos of visa holders and make sure they match the person who is seeking to enter the country. The travel data is supposed to be securely stored and made available only to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis.
Foreigners also will be checked as they leave the country as an extra security measure and to ensure they have not overstayed their visa or violated other restrictions.
A similar program is to be installed at 50 land border crossings by the end of next year.
[…] In Brazil, meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry started fingerprinting and photographing arriving Americans last week in retaliation. U.S. citizens waited for hours Monday to be photographed and fingerprinted at Rio’s international airport.
I’ll copy and paste my comment on this news at the Talking Dog.
While there is no civil liberties issue in denying entry to non-citizens or even finger-printing or photographing them, I think we haven’t given this whole thing as much thought as it requires.
This is part of the revolution in information systems and computing. We can now store a digital photo and fingerprints of most visitors to the US in a database along with info about their travels to the US. Similar or other data can be collected about all kinds of people whether visitors, permanent residents or citizens. As an aside, every applicant for permanent residency submits photos and digital fingerprints during the approval process nowadays.
The question is when we should collect such data; what data should be linked together; and what should be the limitations on such data. For example, the purpose of US-VISIT is national security but what should happen when a felon is found through this program?
Also, around 25 million people every year will be going through this process. A lot of these will be repeat visitors, but still we are collecting lots of info about a large number of foreigners. Where are we going with this?
Consider this: Will you be willing to submit your digital fingerprints and photo when visiting another country? For example, France? Israel? UK? Pakistan? India? China? Russia?
I think you get my point.
I am not a libertarian. So I don’t have any philosophical objection to such things. I think it might be a good idea for every country to fingerprint and photograph all visitors to check with terrorist etc. databases. But I would prefer that if there is no match, most of this info should be destroyed rather than kept in a database because I have pragmatic concerns about its use.