Cooperation bolsters border tech

The federal agencies involved in securing the nation's borders are moving ahead to deploy the technology that will enable them to perform that mission together, officials told a Senate subcommittee Oct. 9.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, the State Department and other agencies have been working together for years on different systems and initiatives for border security. Following last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed several laws to assist in tracking terrorists and preventing future attacks, including the USA Patriot Act and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act.

These laws have helped considerably in fostering cooperation and enhancing the use of technology, officials testified at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Technology, Terrorism and Government Information Subcommittee.

In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology — working with different agencies on biometrics technology under the two acts — has developed new partnerships and processes that will help in areas that aren't related to homeland security, said Benjamin Wu, deputy undersecretary for technology at the Commerce Department.

Officials provided details on many other efforts under way, including:

* INS is beginning a pilot test this month of the Biometric Verification Systems that use the more than 5 million border crossing cards issued by INS and the State Department since 1998. The cards include fingerprint data and a digital photograph. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center will conduct the test at entry points at Los Angeles and San Ysidro, Calif.; Nogales, Ariz.; San Antonio and Falcon Dam in Texas; and Atlanta.

* INS has established an interagency project team to make sure its entry/exit system meets the needs of the multiple agencies. The team is made up of officials from the Justice, State, Treasury and Transportation departments.

* The State Department's Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) has been tied to records from the FBI, the INS, the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the intelligence community. CLASS uses sophisticated search algorithms — including linguistic algorithms to search Arabic, Slavic and other types of languages — developed specifically for the department to match lookout information to individual visa applicants. The more records it can search, the more effective the system is. It now has access to more than 16 million records.

* NIST is developing several biometrics standards, such as fingerprint and facial-recognition data, for homeland security and general information security purposes. A standard for electronically exchanging fingerprint data among different systems has already gone through the NIST process and has been approved by the American National Standards Institute. NIST is also developing a way to test the effectiveness of commercial biometric products, based on its new Face Recognition Vendor Test.

* NIST has been working with the many agencies involved in border security to help evaluate biometric products, and later this year, NIST plans to submit to Congress its report on that work with recommendations on which biometric technologies, either alone or combined with others, can best help secure the borders.

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