Atlanta to test US-VISIT tech

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"US-VISIT on track"

Foreign travelers in Atlanta next month will be the first to test the new entry/exit system for tracking visitors to the United States.

Homeland Security Department officials will conduct a pilot test of the technologies used for entry and exit in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) system at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. The project will include training and system testing, said Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for border and transportation security.

"This will be operational for all airlines going in and out of Atlanta International Airport," Hutchinson said today at a press briefing to unveil the new US-VISIT technology, which includes two forms of biometrics to verify a traveler's identity.

Officials plan to have the entry technology implemented at 115 airports and 14 seaports by January 5, 2004, with the exit systems running at up to 30 of the top airports, which cover 95 percent of the air traffic. The remaining airports and seaports will be phased in later that year, officials said. They expect US-VISIT to be implemented at land border checkpoints in phases in 2005 and 2006.

"The timing of the money and the amount of money impact the rollout," US-VISIT Director Jim Williams said. Congress for fiscal 2003 approved a US-VISIT budget of $368 million, most of which went to create the technologies for the first increment of the system in air and seaports. The system was allotted $330 million for fiscal 2004, down from the administration's request of $444 million.

Using the new system, a border inspector will scan two fingerprints from each visitor and take a digital picture. This is in addition to the current process of scanning visa documents and asking questions about the traveler's stay — questions that left much of the process up to the inspector's discretion, Williams said.

For the first time, the inspector will be able to verify a person's identity by reviewing a digital photo from the State Department taken at the time of visa issuance with the photo on the person's visa and the person. The traveler's data is then checked against terrorist watch lists and the inspector is alerted as to whether there was a match with a name on the list or the passenger was cleared.

Officials expect the procedure to add only a few seconds to the traveler's inspection process.

"We are very mindful of not dramatically increasing the time for the traveler," Hutchinson said.

The exit system includes a kiosk where a traveler will follow prompts to scan their travel documents and fingerprints before boarding a plane to leave the country. Border attendants will be on hand, one per five kiosks, to help travelers through the process, said Bob Mocny, US-VISIT deputy director.

This initial solution will be implemented using mostly existing technologies and contracts, including legacy Immigration and Naturalization deals with Computer Sciences Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Science Applications International Corp. and Bart and Associates, Williams said. DHS officials plan to a request for a proposal next month for a prime integrator. They expect to award the contract in May.

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