International visitors coming through Washington Dulles International Airport now have to submit 10 fingerprints rather than the customary two and a digital photograph, says the Department of Homeland Security.
DHS says increasing the number of fingerprints in the US-VISIT program will help improve security and accuracy of biometric data. Biometric information on international visitors is collected when a person applies for a U.S. visa or arrives at a U.S. port of entry. The information is then used by the US-VISIT program, which checks the data against joint FBI-DHS watchlists for criminals, illegal immigrants, and known or suspected terrorists.
Noting the power of biometrics, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said, "They help the legitimate traveler proceed more quickly while protecting their identity and enable our frontline personnel to focus even greater attention on potential security risks. Biometrics tell the story that the unknown terrorist tries to conceal, and it causes them to question whether they've ever left a print behind."
Critics and skeptics, reports CNN.com, worry the new policy will affect privacy and tourism.
Privacy advocates such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center claim the system puts personal information at risk. A July 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that "systems supporting the US-VISIT program have significant information security control weaknesses that place sensitive and personally identifiable information at increased risk of unauthorized and possibly undetected disclosure and modification, misuse and destruction".... Travel and tourism groups fear that more barriers to international travel will make foreigners less likely to visit the United States. Discover America Partnership, a trade group representing the tourism industry, is cautiously supporting the program, but urges a greater effort by the government to make foreign travelers aware of the program.
DHS says there have been no privacy breaches associated with the US-VISIT program.
The 10 fingerprint policy will soon expand to these additional airports: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport, Miami International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Orlando International Airport, and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Dulles became the first port of entry to require 10 fingerprints from international travelers on November 29.
By the end of 2008, all other ports of entry will have begun collecting 10 fingerprints from international visitors.