State to share visa info with FBI

The State Department is working out an agreement with the FBI that would allow the law enforcement agency to tap into State's database of 50 million visa applications.

The agreement, which will be spelled out in a memorandum in the next month or two, will help provide better links among agencies that use different and incompatible technology.

The database is known as State's "name check database." It contains visa applicants' personal information and, in many cases, a photograph, according to Stuart Patt, a spokesman at State's Consular Affairs.

Patt said the visa records are considered confidential "with the exception of being used for law enforcement for an investigation."

"We are in the course of working out an agreement with the FBI and federal law enforcement community of ways to provide information to them," Patt said. "We're not contemplating that every law enforcement officer in the country will tap into the U.S. visa records."

State has used the database to see if a person applying for a visa has been denied one in the past or if there is derogatory visa information in the system.

However, the records do not show when people arrive in the United States or whether they use the visa at all, according to Patt.

The FBI declined comment on the initiative, but in the past, FBI Director Robert Mueller has said he wants to provide better links among agencies that have conflicting technology systems.

Kathleen Walker, a lawyer with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been using State's database at ports of entry since January 2002.

A problem with it, however, is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to correct misinformation in the database, she said.

"There's no point to go to say, 'You've got the wrong information on me.'" Walker said. "It's really easy to get into the database. It's really hard to get out."

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