Information Sharing

Watchdog: Too many countries not sharing visa waiver data

Global Data (Shutterstock)

Even though the Department of Homeland Security and Congress have been tightening up the Visa Waiver Program that allows citizens of 38 countries to come into the U.S. without a formal visa for 90 days, many of the countries participating in the accelerated-entry program aren't supplying adequate data for the system to do its job properly.

According to a Government Accountability Office study, as of last December, about a third of Visa Waiver Program countries weren't sharing identity information about known or suspected terrorists as envisioned under a 2003 DHS policy directing agencies to generate and maintain data on known or suspected terrorists.

The report also said about a third of Visa Waiver Program countries hadn't yet shared criminal history biographic, biometric and criminal information. Some countries have said they don't yet have the equipment in place to do such exchanges.

The GAO told DHS that it needed to get tougher with participating countries and set firm deadlines to get technical capabilities set up, or work out administrative issues.

Participating countries had long been required to enter into, but not to fully implement, the agreements. DHS announced in August 2015 that it had developed a new requirements for information sharing, but again failed to set firm timelines.  In December 2015, Congress passed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which requires that countries fully implement information-sharing agreements in order to participate in the VWP.

The data from the countries participating in the program is used to vet incoming visitors against U.S. databases to screen out potential problem visitors. It's also used to help track lost and stolen passports that might be used to gain illicit entry into the U.S.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, federal and state officials expressed concern about the U.S. admitting people fleeing the years-long civil war in Syria without conducting thorough background checks.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act also made travelers who have visited certain countries no longer eligible for the program beginning Jan. 21. And in April, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Visa Waiver Program travelers from participating countries were required to have an e-Passport, which has an embedded electronic chip. 

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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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