US-VISIT inquiries low

A relatively small number of foreign visitors have asked for their records since the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program started last January, a US-VISIT official said today.

Out of 14.6 million passengers enrolled in US-VISIT, almost 50 have inquired about their records in redress requests, said Steve Yonkers, privacy officer for the program. Yonkers spoke this morning at a meeting of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board.

Meanwhile, more than 330 criminals and individuals with immigration violations have been detected, detained or denied entry since US-VISIT started.

US-VISIT officials haven't had any privacy or security breaches even as they strive to expand the program, Yonkers said. "We need to be transparent about how we're conducting business.

US-VISIT workers use biometrics such as digital fingerprint scans and photographs to determine if a person applying for entry to the United States is someone to whom State Department officials issued a visa. Officials also check the biometric and biographic data against terrorist watch lists.

NIST officials described the program as "a model for security and privacy."

Linda Ackerman, staff counsel at the PrivacyActivism nonprofit group, disagrees. She said the information in the system is shared across government agencies and foreign governments, where U.S. officials have no control of privacy or security requirements.

"If you have that much information spread in that many different directions, how can you say the information is secure?" Ackerman asked. "I really think that it's of no consequence that 50 people have complained. People are not negatively affected until there's an accidental data spill or an intentional one, by someone who's working inside the system."

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