US-VISIT exit choice forthcoming

The Homeland Security Department will choose in the next 60 days which of three procedures it will use to track international visitors leaving the United States, department officials said today.

A report evaluating the three methods under consideration is due in the next few weeks, said Anna Hinken, spokeswoman for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which screens foreign nationals entering and exiting the country to weed out potential terrorists.

The first process uses kiosks located throughout an airport or seaport. An "exit attendant" -- who would be a contract worker, Hinken said -- checks the traveler’s documents. The traveler then steps to the station, scans both index fingers and has a digital photo taken. The station prints out a receipt that verifies the passenger has checked out.

The second method requires the passenger to present the receipt when reaching the departure gate. An exit attendant will scan the receipt and one of the passenger’s index fingers using a wireless handheld device. If the passenger’s fingerprint matches the identity on the receipt, the attendant returns the receipt and the passenger can board.

The third procedure uses just the wireless device at the gate. The screening officer scans the traveler's fingerprints and takes a picture with the device, which is similar in size to tools that car-rental companies use, Hinken said. The device wirelessly checks the US-VISIT database. Once the traveler's identity is confirmed as safe, the officer prints out a receipt and the visitor can pass.

The upcoming report will determine which method best balances high security with allowing legitimate travel and ensuring passengers’ privacy, Hinken said.

Only about a dozen airports and seaports are using the various exit-scanning methods because Homeland Security must build the infrastructure from scratch, department officials say.

Biometric scanning of foreign visitors upon entry is more common. The department has installed US-VISIT entry scanning at 115 airports, 15 seaports and in the secondary inspection areas at the 50 busiest land ports. The program will extend to the secondary inspection areas at all 165 land ports by December 31.

Since starting operation in January 2004, the department states, US-VISIT has processed more than 23 million international visitors and denied entry to more than 500 criminals and immigration violators.

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