June 4, 2009 By Corey McKenna
On May 28, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began collecting digital fingerprints from non-U.S. citizens leaving the country in a pilot program being conducted at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
The pilot is part of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which helps ensure that non-U.S. citizens entering the country are who they say they are and they don't pose a threat to U.S. security. Collecting biometrics from visitors to the United States also helps prevent those visitors from having their identities stolen, the DHS said in a press release.
Collecting digital fingerprints from non-U.S. citizens as they leave the country allows the DHS to determine whether those visitors have indeed left the country or overstayed their visas.
"The pilot programs in Atlanta and Detroit will help us determine and develop standard procedures for use at airports across the country to expedite legitimate travel and enhance our nation's security," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a press release.
The DHS concluded a pilot of collecting biometrics from visitors leaving the United States in May 2007. In that pilot, travelers were required to biometrically check out before boarding their flights out of the country. However, a June 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that while the technology worked, traveler compliance with the program was low. According to the GAO, the DHS concluded from the test that international visitors' biometrics should be collected as part of the existing departure process to minimize the effect on visitors and ensure seamless biometric collection regardless of departure point.
In April 2008, the DHS proposed making airlines responsible for collecting fingerprints from non-U.S. citizens leaving the country. However, the airlines resisted that effort on the grounds that updating their systems with the required technology would be too expensive.
Non-U.S. citizens between the ages of 14 and 79 leaving from those two airports should expect to have their fingerprints collected before boarding their flights. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers will collect fingerprints from affected travelers at their gates in Detroit. In Atlanta, U.S. Transportation Security Administration officers will collect fingerprints from appropriate travelers at security checkpoints.
The new pilots are expected to continue through July. After that, standard guidelines for the collection of digital fingerprints from non-U.S. citizens leaving the country should be issued to all airports within the next year.
According to a video on the DHS Web site, the collection of digital fingerprints will not take the place of immigration forms I-94 and I-94W and may require the collection of all ten fingerprints.