Hands-on lawmaking

Laws passed by Congress are likely to make biometric identification systems more common

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"Facing facts"

Biometric identification systems remain rare, but laws passed by Congress are likely to make them more common. For example:

* The USA Patriot Act, which passed six weeks after last year's terrorist attacks, requires the federal government to develop technology standards for verifying the identity of visa applicants to ensure that an individual has not received a visa under a different name. The best way to do that is with biometrics.

* The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which President Bush signed in May, requires that visas and other travel documents include biometric identifiers by Oct. 26, 2004.

* The Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which was signed last November, authorizes the use of biometrics or other technologies to verify identities of those entering secure airport areas.

Several earlier laws also promoted using biometric tools for identification:

* The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act called for using technology to better identify welfare recipients.

* The 1996 Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act called for creating an identification system to reliably verify the employment eligibility of foreign visitors. The law says the system must be able to reliably verify identities.

* The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 required the Immigration and Naturalization Service to include a machine-readable biometric identifier on border crossing cards. The State Department collects fingerprints and photographs of foreigners for those cards.

* The 1988 Truck and Bus Safety and Regulatory Reform Act required federally set standards for the biometric identification of commercial drivers.

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