Immigration service sets rules for online system

The Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is going ahead with a new system that will give employees at the Homeland Security Department online access to immigration files, though other agencies will not have the same sharing privileges.

Authorized DHS workers will be able to access digital versions of A-Files (alien files), which contain all the information on people passing through the immigration and inspection processes, using regular online authentication procedures.

However, little will change for workers at other agencies who need that information. Outside agencies will not have direct access to the Integrated Digitization Document Management Program (IDDMP), the DHS said in a recent revision to its privacy rules concerning A-Files.

Instead they will have to appear in person at a USCIS office and present their credentials, as they now do to look at paper-based A-Files, and then work directly with USCIS records employees to view those portions of the online files they need to get specific information from.

The IDDMP is a part of an enterprisewide transformation program at the USCIS to change the agency from a fragmented, paper-based environment into a more centralized, consolidated organization.

The USCIS has come under scrutiny in the past year for a perceived lack of focus on its IT modernization plans. In March 2006, the Government Accountability Office chided the USCIS for having no effective planning for the IDDMP.

In August, the USCIS formally announced a new records digitization facility in Williamsburg, Ky. Congress had earlier authorized funding that would allow the digitization of around 1 million A-Files a year.

The USCIS said the new system will use the same kinds of online customer accounts used in the private sector, linking information related to an individual in a single account.

Written comments on the new privacy rules must be submitted on or before Feb. 15.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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