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« REALly bad idea | Main | Virtually legal »

Unwelcome VISITors

By davebirch posted Mar 30 2007 at 4:09 PM

[Dave Birch] It looks as if Forum friend Max Most was right when she expressed doubts about the trajectory of the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program last November.  According to a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report the  US-VISIT program's costs are spiraling out of control.  Accenture were awarded a $10 billion contract for US-VISIT back in 2004, and it is intended as a border control system. A digital photo and fingerprints are taken when foreigners enter the US (after standing in a queue for hours, as many of us have experienced) and these are "checked" against a government watchlists stored in a "hodgepodge of backend databases."  But there's virtually no system in place to know when visitors have left the country.

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Population-scale systems that are going to somehow bridge the gap between database virtual identities and individual's real identities are not simple, and no-one would pretend otherwise.  But it's not just the biometric subsystems that cause the problem: it's the overall system that is often the problem and deploying biometrics will not help at all.  Even in the case of US-VISIT, many aspects of the system would be failing even if there were no biometrics involved at all.  Look at what is going at land Points-of-Entry, or POEs.  US-VISIT has been installed at 154 of the 170 land POEs.  While DHS officials are claiming that US-VISIT has improved their ability to verify identities (and I'm sure that's true), they also recognise that as US-VISIT is extended and enhanced to aid border security, installation could increase processing times and "adversely affect operations" at land POEs where space constraints, traffic congestion, and processing delays already exist.  And as far as I can see, if a terrorist wants to sneak into America from Canada, then they will simply walk over the border round the corner, not go through a border crossing anyway.

Incidentally, Max has just published a new report on the future of the biometrics industry and you can preview it here.

My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public.
[posted with ecto]

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