GAO: Biometrics can aid in border security

Some biometric technologies could be used effectively to help screen individuals at U.S. borders provided they are used with other screening techniques, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

"Biometric technology is not a panacea for the border security problem," the report said. "It is only one component of the decision support systems that determine who is allowed to enter the United States and who is not."

The report, "Biometrics for Border Security," was submitted Nov. 15 to the Senate Appropriations legislative branch subcommittee.

Of the technologies available in the marketplace, the GAO found that fingerprint recognition, facial recognition and iris recognition are most suitable for border security. All three have been effective in border control pilot programs and applications, the GAO said.

But there are potential drawbacks:

* None of them have been used in a large application such as border security; there were more than 500 million border crossings into the country last year, two-thirds of them by non-U.S. citizens.

* Biometric technologies are not 100 percent accurate; all have some measurable error rate.

While each technology has its own costs and benefits, the GAO estimated implementing a visa system incorporating biometrics at somewhere between $1.3 billion and $2.9 billion, with annual costs running between $700 million and $1.5 billion.

"Whether the financial and nonfinancial costs are warranted by the benefits of greater security is a policy issue that should be determined before biometric technologies are implemented in a border control system," the report said.

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