Airlines Fight Fingerprinting

By Matthew Harwood

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the airline industry are battling over a congressional requirement that all foreign visitors be fingerprinted before they leave the the United States, reports USA Today.

Congress never specified whether government or private industry would collect fingerprints from the 33 million foreigners traveling to the United States each year. TSA's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), says fingerprinting foreign travelers is "essential" because it allows the government to identify travelers with expired visas and suspicious travel itineraries that "suggest terrorist plotting."

Currently DHS fingerprints foreign visitors but wants airlines to take over the task.

Ken Dunlap—security chief for International Air Transport Association (IATA) North America, a trade association representing 240 airlines globally—told USA Today that collecting fingerprints for security reasons is a "government function" that should not be borne by IATA members.

The government, however, feels differently.

[Robert] Mocny [head of the fingerprint program] said airlines are best-suited to take fingerprints because they already send the government electronic lists of passengers on U.S.-bound flights and hand over forms that foreign visitors fill out when they leave the USA.

The department wants departing foreigners to give four fingerprints, which Mocny said would take a few seconds and could be done while passengers wait at a check-in counter.

Mocny estimates it would take airline carriers no more than a few seconds to fingerprint travelers while they waited at the check-in counter. The IATA disagrees. During a meeting with the White House's Office of Management and Budget in February, which "can approve, alter, or kill" the plan, the trade association estimated fingerprinting would take one minute per passenger. Dunlap says this will lead to long lines,  possible flight delays, and cost the airlines hundreds of millions of dollars.

Stewart Verdery, a former Homeland Security assistant secretary for border and transportation policy,  guessed that responsibilty for fingerprinting will stay with the government because "[c]arriers are pulling out all the stops to kill' the proposal."



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