DHS pledges upgrades to US-VISIT border security program

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WASHINGTON -- The Dept. of Homeland Security said it intends to install new 10-finger scanners at all U.S. ports of entry over the next year.

Major international airports will be among the first ports of entry to receive the scanners. The new scanners will replace devices that are now in use, which digitally capture prints on only two fingers.

Early next year, the DHS said, the new scanners will be installed at Boston Logan Airport, Chicago O'Hare Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport, Miami Airport, New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, Orlando Airport, San Francisco Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

Meanwhile, the State Dept., which currently uses 10-finger scanners at most of its visa-issuing posts overseas, plans to complete deployment of the devices worldwide by the end of 2007.

Stevan Porter, chairman of the Discover America Partnership, an inbound tourism advocacy group that supports legislation currently pending in Congress that would create a multi-million marketing campaign to encourage inbound tourism, called the installation of the new scanners a "critical security upgrade."

"We support deployment of this technology nationwide during 2008," he said.

However, Porter added, the U.S. government should explain the security upgrade to inbound travelers.

He said the U.S. needs "a nationally coordinated campaign to communicate a two-fold message to our friends overseas" that expresses "America welcomes you and enhanced security at U.S. airports makes you and the world safer and more secure."

The 10-finger scanners are part of a larger border security initiative referred to as U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology or US-VISIT.

According to the DHS, the US-VISIT process typically begins overseas at U.S. consular offices when a potential inbound traveler applies for a visitor visa.

During the process, a digital photo is taken of the visa applicant. The applicant's index fingers are also scanned to electronically collect digital fingerprints, which are stored in a database.

The fingers are scanned again by Customers and Border Patrol officers and checked, along with the digital photo, against the database as part of the entry process when the traveler arrives in the U.S. to confirm the individual is the same person that applied for the visa.

The DHS said the overall accuracy of the US-VISIT system would be improved by collecting 10 digital fingerprints instead of two.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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