Homeland Security

New travel order tasks countries with data sharing

Shutterstock image (by NREY): digital fingerprint identification. 

The president's new order sharpening travel restrictions for a number of countries come as Customs and Border Security has been closing in on a long-sought key biometric system that can track visa overstays.

In a Sept. 24 proclamation, President Donald Trump extended visa restrictions on Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, lifted restrictions on travelers from Sudan and added new limits on travelers from Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

The order is the latest iteration of the president's controversial Jan. 27 Executive Order that for 90 days closed down travel to the U.S. by citizens of majority-Muslim countries of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. That order, set to expire Sept. 24, had been stalled in the courts because of multiple lawsuits charging that it targeted travelers based on religion.

"Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet," the president said in a tweet immediately after the order's release.

The "extreme vetting" Trump repeatedly referred to on his campaign is starting to take shape, and it includes practices taken from security partnerships, such as the Visa Waiver Program, and from internationally recognized law enforcement and national security initiatives, such as the adoption of ePassports to prevent fraud and counterfeiting.

To back the latest restrictions, the White House said the federal government conducted a "worldwide review" of how countries issued electronic passports and shared security risk data with the U.S. The review assessed whether a country issued electronic passports embedded with data to enable confirmation of identity, reported lost and stolen passports to appropriate entities, and made available upon request identity-related information not included in its passports.

DHS submitted the report to the White House in July, according to the order. It said 16 countries were deemed "inadequate" based on analysis of their identity-management protocols, information-sharing practices, and risk factors. The department said it worked with most of those countries during a 50-day period after the study was performed to help them improve their identity management capabilities and data. However, DHS said that Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen capabilities were still deemed inadequate after that period.

Although it isn't mentioned in the new order, long-sought biometric exit technology solutions at U.S. airports -- which help track visa-holders' exit from the U.S. and could help winnow out unlawful travelers already in the country -- is getting closer to fruition.

The biometric entry/exit program has been seen by both the Obama administration and the Trump administration as a critical tool for curbing visa overstays, but a technological solution has been elusive.

In the last few months, however, CBP officials have said their agency is closing in on facial recognition technologies that are effective, not overly cumbersome for airports or airlines to install in airport facilities, and that meet privacy restrictions.

This past summer, CBP installed facial recognition biometric exit technology at eight international airports across the U.S. from Atlanta to Las Vegas that will collect biometric facial photographs from departing travelers on participating flights from those airports to determine citizenship, a CBP spokeswoman told FCW via email. The agency does not plan to biometrically record departure of U.S. citizens from the U.S., she said.

"These deployments are in part to demonstrate to stakeholders how the technology works," said the spokeswoman. "CBP sees potential for the technology to transform the travel process provided privacy issues can be addressed."

"CBP is working with airlines and airports to align our modernization efforts, so there are not conflicting or competing technologies or multiple redundant technologies deployed," she said, noting the agency also wants to build biometric exit in a way that leverages airline industry stakeholder plans to create a better passenger experiences.

CBP also partnered over the summer with commercial airline JetBlue in a trial of biometric scanning tech that allowed travelers at gates at Boston's Logan International Airport to "board in a snap," using images taken by facial recognition cameras at the gate as their boarding passes. Travelers on domestic flights didn't have to show drivers licenses, boarding passes or any other papers to board their flights.

On Sept. 20, SITA, the technology provider in the trial, said the program was a success, with near-100 percent match rates.

CBP, said the spokeswoman, has also partnered with Delta Airlines on a similar biometric program.

"Through our consultations with the airlines and airport stakeholders, and based on the success of several pilots, CBP determined that facial recognition was a viable exit solution," she said.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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