Starting next week, the Homeland Security Department will begin requiring foreigners who fly into certain U.S. airports to have 10 fingerprints scanned as part of an upgraded security system.
The department will require foreigners arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., to provide 10 fingerprints under an expanded version of the US-VISIT migrant-tracking system. The system will be deployed at nine other airports by next March, a US-VISIT spokeswoman said.
Foreigners previously have been required to have only two fingerprints scanned into the system, which compares that biometric information to government watch lists in order to identify potential terrorists, criminals or people who have violated immigration laws.
The transition to 10 fingerprints has been years in the making. Critics have noted that US-VISIT is not fully compatible with the FBI's integrated fingerprint database, which uses 10 prints. Additionally, the State Department is using 10-fingerprint scanners at most of its visa-issuing centers around the world.
"The transition from collecting two digital fingerprints to collecting 10 fingerprints from international visitors is one of the department's top priorities because it furthers the department's ability to keep dangerous people out of the United States while making legitimate travel more efficient," the department said in a statement.
The spokeswoman said Homeland Security has begun a public relations campaign to inform international travelers of the new procedures and does not expect wait times at airports to increase. "We're working on doing this in a way that doesn't impede travel," she said.
She noted that US-VISIT has been operating for four years, so foreigners are accustomed to having fingerprints scanned. "We've had that experience behind us, so this is not new," she said.
Homeland Security awarded contracts to CrossMatch Technologies and Identix Identification Services to supply 10-fingerprint scanners, the spokeswoman said. Identix has since become L-1 Identity Solutions.
The department plans to evaluate how the scanners are operating at the airports in March and select one of the companies to continue supplying scanners.
According to the department's schedule, the upgraded US-VISIT system will be deployed at 107 other airports by Dec. 31, 2008. Additionally, the department will begin collecting 10 fingerprints of international travelers at seaports and land ports by that date. The system is only used during secondary screening procedures at land crossings.