November 17, 2004 1:52 PM PST

Biometric pilot program to tighten U.S. borders

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun collecting digital fingerprints and pictures of visitors at three major U.S. land border crossings, a spokeswoman for the agency said on Wednesday.

The new technological measures, similar to those already being used in airports and seaports across the nation, are part of the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.

"We are testing this at these three locations before we roll out the technology at the top-50 land border entry points," said Kimberly Weissman, spokeswoman for the DHS's US-VISIT Program.

As part of the pilot, fingerprint readers and digital cameras will be used on the southern U.S. border at Douglas, Ariz., and Laredo, Texas, and on the northern border at Port Huron, Mich. Less than 5 percent of the more than 100 million border crossings currently require that the visitors be documented, Weissman said. The other crossings are typically visitors with a Border Crossing Card, which allows people to travel within 25 miles of the border for a period of 30 days.

By the end of the year, the Department of Homeland Security plans to have digital cameras and fingerprint technology in use at the 50 busiest land crossings, which account for the vast majority of traffic across the U.S. border, Weissman said. There are 165 land-border crossings in total.

The lead technology contractor for US-VISIT is Accenture, which landed the existing federal deal in June. The company oversees recommendation and implementation of technology for recording visitors' exits from the United States. That program will start to be rolled out next year, Weissman said.

When completed, the US-VISIT program will record the comings and goings of every foreign visitor and let U.S. homeland security officials know when people have overstayed their visas.

 

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