Two biometric systems being tested

Controversry over airlines' role slows process

Homeland Security Department officials hope tests for collecting biometric information from non-U.S. air travelers as they leave the country will help resolve a protracted struggle over how to use information technology to track foreign citizens leaving the United States.

The government has gathered fingerprints from foreign visitors as they enter the country since 2004 under the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program. However, establishing the congressionally mandated companion exit system has been more difficult because of funding disagreements and logistical complexities.

On May 28, DHS officials started two test projects in which government officials collect the necessary data from travelers leaving the United States at airports in Atlanta and Detroit. The tests are expected to last 35 days.

For more than a year, DHS and the organizations that represent the airline industry have been at odds over the Bush administration's proposal that airlines, rather than government employees, collect biometric information from travelers for the exit program. The Atlanta and Detroit tests do not include any scenario in which the airlines would collect the data.

Robert Mocny, director of the US-VISIT program at DHS, said a test in which the airlines collect the data — as Congress requested — is still possible, but so far, airlines have refused to participate.

However, officials at the International Air Transport Association said DHS never asked the group to help develop a model in which airlines collected the information, and a spokeswoman at the Air Transport Association said her group had discussions with DHS, but nothing emerged from them.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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