Bill allows DHS choice of biometrics


The Homeland Security Department would decide what kind of biometric identification technology it would incorporate into a new entry/exit system under legislation backed by bipartisan leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The bill doesn't choose among biometric identifiers, which potentially include fingerprints, voice recognition, facial recognition and DNA. "We wanted the best technology for the job," said a spokesman for the House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

The bill's sponsors, Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), said technology was moving too fast to lock DHS into a single biometric identifier. Being too specific now could limit any future system, the lawmakers fear.


Text of bill

The bill looks to solve the nagging problem of visa overstays. A workable entry/exit recognition system that U.S. border agencies could use to enforce visa rules has been elusive. Miller and Sanchez cited studies that showed as many as 40 percent of people in the country illegally are the result of overstays.

The measure would bolster entry and exit identification capabilities at the northern and southern borders and move some of the duties that had been assigned to U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology to Customs and Border Protection. The Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) replaced US VISIT last March.

The bill would require the Homeland Security secretary to submit a plan to establish a biometric exit system at all ports of entry within 180 days of enactment. DHS would also have to have the system permanently in place at 10 U.S. airports and 10 seaports within two years. The bill would also move to establish a pilot program for non-pedestrian outbound traffic at both borders and ultimately expand to all pedestrians at land ports within three years, and to all air and seaports within five.

Much of the leadership of the House committee is behind the bill. Cosponsors include Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking Democrat Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, and Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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