Biometrics

Sen. Sessions wants fingerprints for visitors entering and exiting the U.S.

Shutterstock image (by NREY): digital fingerprint identification.

Visitors entering and exiting the U.S. should submit fingerprints as biometric proof of identity, the chairman of a Senate panel with oversight of immigration policy maintains.

"Iris, face scans, we don't need that," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Speaking at a Security Industry Association event in Washington, Sessions said an effective biometric visa entry/exit system that had been recommended by the 9/11 Commission and backed by four laws has yet to be implemented, and visa overstays are at record numbers. The security threat of those overstays can’t be measured, he said.

"We should use fingerprints" as biometric identifiers, he said. "That's what's in law enforcement databases. Why create a new system?" A data facility that would manage the fingerprint database wouldn't "take up a building and won't slow down" the entry and exit process, Sessions argued.

The senator took the airline industry to task for delaying the system. Airlines and airports have pushed back against exit systems because of potential delays and other problems.

"Airlines don't determine policy," he said.

In a subsequent panel discussion on biometrics and national security at the same conference, however, technologists said other biometric technologies such as facial recognition are improving.

"Facial recognition has come a long way in accuracy," said Erik Bowman, Northrop Grumman's chief engineer for the U.S. Army's Automated Biometric Identification System. Bowman said that the accuracy of facial scans had climbed from 70 percent to 90 percent in recent years. In some cases, he said, existing camera systems in buildings and other locations could be harnessed for the capability.

"We see gains in technical accuracy," said Mike Garcia, deputy director, National Strategy for Trusted Identity in Cyberspace. "We can do many more things with great benefit for relatively low cost" with some emerging technologies like facial recognition.

Bowman and Garcia referenced the new Customs and Border Protection trial at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, begun June 13, to explore how facial recognition tech can work with existing agency IT systems.

That trial will test how CBP's systems can  work with facial comparison technology to process images of travelers leaving the U.S. CBP said the test would be very specific, testing passengers between 14 and 79 years old, leaving the airport on a single daily flight to Japan. It is set to last until Sept. 30.

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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