Atlanta airport to pilot US-VISIT tech

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"US-VISIT on track"

Foreign travelers to Atlanta this week will be the first to test the new entry/exit system for tracking visitors.

Homeland Security Department officials plan to conduct a pilot project of the entry/exit technologies used in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) system at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. This will include training and system testing, said Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for border and transportation security.

"This will be operational for all airlines going in and out of Atlanta International Airport," Hutchinson said last week at a press briefing to unveil the new technology, which uses two forms of biometrics to verify travelers' identities.

By Jan. 5, 2004, the entry technology will be implemented at 115 airports and 14 seaports, and the exit strategy will be in place in as many as 30 airports. The remaining air- and seaports will be phased in throughout the year, officials said. Land border ports of entry will adopt the technology in phases in 2005 and 2006.

"The timing of the money and the amount of money impact the rollout," said US-VISIT Director Jim Williams. The system was granted $368 million in fiscal 2003, most of which went to create the technologies for the first phase of the initiative at airports and seaports. The system was allotted $330 million for fiscal 2004, down from the Bush administration's request of $444 million.

The first phase improves the technology of existing contracts and legacy systems including IDENT, the immigration and photograph database; the Arrival and Departure Information System; and the Interagency Border Inspection System, said Paul Mangus, executive vice president and partner at Bart and Associates Inc., one of the companies working with DHS on the pilot program.

When travelers enter the United States, a border inspector will scan two fingerprints and take a digital photo. These procedures add to the process of scanning visa documents and asking questions about travelers' plans while in the country, which Williams said left much of the process up to inspectors' discretion.

For the first time, inspectors will be able to verify a person's identity by reviewing digital photos from the State Department database. The traveler's data is then checked against terrorist watch lists and the inspector is alerted if there is a match. The exit technology is a kiosk at which travelers follow prompts to scan their travel documents and fingerprints before boarding a plane.

"We are very mindful of not dramatically increasing the time for the traveler," Hutchinson said.

Officials face a monumental effort in installing the needed infrastructure, Mangus said.

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