House to consider expanding biometrics at sea

The House will consider legislation today to expand a Coast Guard program that collects and screens fingerprints of suspected terrorists and illegal migrants interdicted at sea.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 1148. It is similar to another bill he authored and the House approved in a 394-3 vote in July 2008.

Under the new legislation, the Homeland Security Department would establish a maritime biometric identification program and coordinate it with other programs in the department. Within 90 days, DHS must submit an analysis of the cost of expanding its existing maritime biometric capabilities.

The Coast Guard has been conducting a pilot demonstration of a biometrics-at-sea program since 2006 in the waters between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It was expanded to include the Straits of Florida in February 2008. In the first 15 months of operation, the Coast Guard collected biometric data on 1,513 migrants and prosecuted 118 of them.

Under the pilot program, the Coast Guard digitally captures fingerprints at sea and uses satellite networks to immediately screen them against the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology database. US-VISIT includes information on criminal activities, immigration violations and other encounters with government authorities.