US-VISIT exit plan expected by 2008

The Homeland Security Department is trying to quash criticism of its slow development of an exit piece to the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.

Robert Mocny, US-VISIT director, said this week the agency has decided a piece of the exit program will require airlines to collect biometric data of visitors leaving the country when they check in at the airport. Mocny said DHS will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register by January 2008 detailing the program.

"We don't have too many details yet," Mocny said during a conference on identity management sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America in Washington. "The technology worked fine during the pilots, but we want to see what infrastructure is out there already."

DHS has conducted an experimental biometric exit program at 14 major airports in the past three years.

DHS discontinued a pilot exit program May 6. DHS stopped requiring foreign nationals to use US-VISIT kiosks to check out as they leave the country. Some described those kiosks as difficult to use.

Mocny said he would like to see airlines volunteer for the program, but many companies are against this concept, fearing it would delay check-in times.

He added that DHS' bigger challenge will be creating an exit system for land ports.

"Our goal is to have an exit system for air and sea ports by December 2008," Mocny said. "The exit system is important, but it was not the first thing we wanted to do. The entry system was more important."

Despite these plans, lawmakers remain frustrated about DHS' slow pace in developing the exit system.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology, said he would like to see DHS focus more on the program.

"We ask about US-VISIT every time secretary [Michael Chertoff] testifies because we are worried about visa overstays," McCaul said. "We are still not satisfied with their response. I think it has been on the backburner because [the Secure Border Initiative]-Net has been their priority focus. I understand why, but I would like to see more focus on US-VISIT's exit system."

McCaul added that there is a lot of interest in Congress on secure identification cards. He pointed to a host of bills requiring technically advanced identifications such as H.R. 98, which calls for the Social Security Administration to produce cards with encrypted machine-readable electronic identification strips and an electronic eligibility database with citizenship and resident work status that employers could check potential employees against.

But he also warned that getting some of these bills passed may be tougher than before.

"The new Congress shifted toward more American Civil Liberties Union driven," McCaul said. "It is not as much about security, but what the government is doing wrong in not protecting citizen's privacy. It is a good debate to have, but in some areas such as the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act it is going the wrong way."

McCaul said Mike McConnell, head of the Director of National Intelligence, said the government would have to go through the FISA court to get permission to capture 70 percent of all communication.

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News and Federal Computer Week, 1105 Government Information Group publications.

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