Not content with asking foreign travels to submit to digital photography and fingerprint scans every time they enter the country, the US government is now asking for biometric fingerprints at some airports on departure.
In a statement released this week, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it is going to begin collecting digital fingerprints from foreign travelers as part of a pilot programme at airports in Atlanta and Detroit.
Passengers leaving from Detroit will be scanned at the gate before boarding, while Atlanta will implement digital fingerprinting at security checkpoints. The pilots will begin at both airports this week and will continue till the end of July.
If the scheme proves successful, the DHS said it plans to begin to extend digital fingerprinting to all airports with the next year.
“Collecting biometrics allows us to determine faster and more accurately whether non-US citizens have departed the United States on time or remained in the country illegally,” said DHS secretary Janet Napolitano. “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.”
However, while foreign travelers will probably continue to face lengthy queues at immigration while US citizens flit through in the flash of a passport, US authorities are investigating how to automate the exit biometrics to ensure that leaving the country is slightly more tolerable than getting into it.
“Since 2004, the US Department of State (DOS) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have collected biometrics from most non-US citizens between the ages of 14 and 79, with some exceptions, when they apply for visas or arrive at US ports of entry. US VISIT has simultaneously worked to create a congressionally mandated automated biometric exit capability, which these pilots will test,” the DHS said in a statement.
But the US government is not alone when it comes to collecting biometric information. In April, the UK government awarded contracts to CSC and IBM to upgrade biometric passports and other systems that will pave the way for national ID Cards. The UK Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said it is “replacing and upgrading” contracts for processing passport applications due to expire in 2009 and 2010 whilst also creating a new database for storing biometric information.