DHS, FBI beef up fingerprint checks for visitors

The Homeland Security Department and FBI are testing an upgraded capability for real-time fingerprint identification of international visitors when they arrive at the nation’s airports, a DHS official said.

The Rapid Response capability now operates at the international arrivals terminals at four U.S. airports and is planned for nationwide deployment in fiscal 2012, John Cohen, principal deputy coordinator of counterterrorism for DHS, said at a House subcommittee hearing on Sept. 13.

International visitors provide fingerprints when they arrive in the country under the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (U.S. Visit) Program. Their fingerprints are checked against the DHS's Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) terrorist watch list of 6.2 million names and other databases.

Related story:

FBI deploys fingerprint system for mobile devices

U.S. Visit’s IDENT system is interoperable with the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System, with thousands of transactions daily.

Enhanced interoperability between IDENT and the FBI system have resulted in creating the new rapid response program, Cohen said. It allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to check a fingerprint from the U.S. Visit program against the FBI’s entire criminal master file of more than 69 million identities, in near real-time, Cohen told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Currently, agencies can share the fingerprint data manually, which has helped DOD identify foreign combatants and match latent fingerprints retrieved from objects such as improvised explosive device fragments or collected from locations where terrorists have operated, Cohen said.

The goal is to have the Government’s three largest biometric systems — those run by DHS, FBI and DOD -- completely interoperable, to make information-sharing more seamless and efficient, Cohen said.

Each system will continue to be maintained and governed by each agency’s respective policies, he added.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 15, 2011

I hiked down to the US Mexican border Sunday. Despite the talk of the "wall" which is just east of where the end of our trail was, as far as I could see to the west only a rancher style barbed wire exists to protect the US border. How will those who cross be finger printed??

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