Senate passes border tech bill

The Senate passed major legislation April 18 in the war against terrorism that would tighten security at U.S. borders by using biometrics and other high-tech tools to monitor who crosses the border and how long they stay.

The $3.2 billion bill would take advantage of many new technological tools on the market to track foreign students on temporary visas and check passenger lists of incoming jetliners from overseas.

It also would create a database from law enforcement sources that could help immigration officials bar possible terrorists, and it would require all travel documents for those entering the country to include biometric identifiers such as fingerprints or retinal scans.

The legislation, approved by the Senate 97-0, already has passed the House and is on a fast track. President Bush is expected to sign it after the House and Senate make minor changes to the bill.

However, experts in the field cautioned that it is not a panacea.

"Biometrics can be a helpful part of [the] solution, but fingerprinting every person who comes across the border will be difficult," said Peter Kant, a director with the Jefferson Consulting Group, a company involved in security.

Douglas Doan, vice president at New Technology Management Inc., said that biometrics is only a small piece of the solution.

"Border security is not achieved with one technology," Doan cautioned. "It is not achieved [by] hiring more people. There just aren't enough people to hold hands along the border. We need a mix of good technology and targeting tools."

The border security bill would increase the pay of border patrol agents and allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to hire 200 new investigators and another 200 inspectors.

It also would require INS to establish a foreign student tracking system that records the acceptance of aliens by educational institutions, the issuance of student visas and the enrollment of aliens at schools. Several of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks were in the country on student visas.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said the bill is expected to close those loopholes. Some of these individuals "came in under student visas because they were looking for weaknesses to get into the United States in a less restrictive, reviewed area," Brownback said. "So that is why this has been at the very heart of this bill."

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