DHS adopts biometrics for border control

WASHINGTON (10/07/2003) - The Department of Homeland Security during the past week has jump-started an aggressive biometric deployment program to help fill gaps in the U.S. border security perimeter.

The DHS Tuesday announced a US$3.5 million deal with Fairfax, Va.-based Information Spectrum Inc. (ISI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Anteon International Corp., for 1,000 optical-stripe read/write drives and biometric verification systems for the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology, or U.S. VISIT, program. The contract comes on the heels of an Oct. 3 announcement by the department that it had signed what is being described as one of the largest contracts in history for biometric fingerprint-scanning technologies with Minnetonka, Minn.-based Identix Corp.

Mark Heilman, executive vice president of corporate development at Anteon, said biometric technology has come a long way over the past several years, but "the jury is still out" in terms of its ability to handle a challenge as large and complex as homeland security. "There are a number of technologies out there, and I think DHS is still looking for the right mix," Heilman said. "I think there will be some choices made during the next year or so that will shake out the industry."

However, the important aspect of his company's recent contract with DHS, Heilman said, is that it doesn't necessarily represent a commitment to fingerprint technology. "The optical card doesn't limit them to using only fingerprint biometric identifiers," he said. "You could certainly store an iris scan on the card."

The ISI optical drives and biometric verification software will be deployed to ports of entry around the U.S. for operation on existing DHS computer systems. The software will enable border-crossing agents to read the encoded data on any of the more than 13 million permanent-resident and border-crossing cards issued by the U.S. government, authenticate the biometric data stored on the cards and alert DHS inspectors to the presence of possible counterfeit cards.

Meanwhile, through a five-year blanket purchase agreement that could be worth up to $27 million, the DHS last week said it will begin deploying Identix's TouchPrint 3000 live-scan fingerprint booking stations and desktop systems to support the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) program as well as other departments within DHS.

The CIS program will use the Identix fingerprint-scanning systems to digitally capture and electronically submit fingerprint images from immigration applicants to the FBI. The fingerprints will then be used to conduct criminal background checks on the applicants before the CIS decides whether to grant immigration benefits. Live-scan systems are currently deployed at more than 130 CIS application support centers throughout the U.S., including the territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Other DHS bureaus, including the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, also use Identix live-scan technology at ports of entry and border-control points.

Frances Zelazny, a spokeswoman for Identix, said the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been using Identix live-scan systems for at least five years to conduct criminal background checks on people who apply for immigrant and asylum status in the U.S.

Zelazny added that the DHS today has already issued its first order under the contract totaling more than $2 million and has announced plans to extend the contract to its overseas screening operations.

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