Report: Biometric visitor tracking won't work at land exits

Federal officials say a biometric tracking program for visitors leaving the United States by road is impractical, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

The report (GAO-07-248), sought by lawmakers including incoming House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., stated that implementing the program to identify exiting travelers will not work in part because some highways have far more entry lanes than exit ones.

The report stated that officials with US VISIT, the federal program that gathers information on foreigners entering and exiting the United States, concluded that the program can't implement biometric elements at land exit points because it would cost an estimated $3 billion, would require new infrastructure and could create major congestion. Furthermore, the report states, "the volume of visitor traffic at [entry and exit points] varies widely."

"DHS has long been aware of space constraints and other capacity issues at land [point of entry] facilities," the report said.

The Homeland Security Department "has not yet articulated how US VISIT is to align with other emerging land border security initiatives and mandates, and thus cannot ensure that the program will meet strategic program goals and operate cost effectively" on land, GAO added.

The report also criticized DHS' plan to begin making biometric scans of all 10 fingerprints -- rather than just two -- for travelers entering by land. This "could increase processing times and adversely affect operations at land [points of entry] where space constraints, traffic congestion and processing delays already exist," GAO stated.

But DHS challenged this assertion in its written response to the report.

DHS officials "have taken steps to work with industry to speed up processing time and to miniaturize the current 10-print capture devices in an attempt to eliminate and/or significantly reduce the impact of deploying 10-print scanning," said Steven Pecinovsky, director of the DHS GAO liaison office.

The report also called on DHS to improve management controls and reports on computer processing problems as they arise, and to develop performance measures to assess US VISIT at land sites. GAO said the department should finalize a mandated report "describing a comprehensive biometric entry and exit system for US VISIT."

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