Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 15, 2006

US-VISIT: No Exit?

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on December 15, 2006

The New York Times reported today that DHS, in an elaborate tribute to Jean-Paul Sartre, is planning to scuttle the “exit” portion of the US-VISIT program, based on the belief that developing such a system is technologically infeasible and would cost too much to implement. This represents a 180 degree turn from a report in mid-November which suggested that DHS was moving forward within the exit portion of US-VISIT. From the NYT story:

Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.

They say it would require additional employees, new buildings and roads at border crossings, and would probably hamper the vital flow of commerce across those borders.

….Efforts to determine whether visitors actually leave have faltered. Departure monitoring would help officials hunt for foreigners who have not left, if necessary. Domestic security officials say, however, it would be too expensive to conduct fingerprint or facial recognition scans for land departures. Officials have experimented with less costly technologies, including a system that would monitor by radio data embedded in a travel form carried by foreigners as they depart by foot or in vehicles.

Tests of that technology, Radio Frequency Identification, found a high failure rate. At one border point, the system correctly identified 14 percent of the 166 vehicles carrying the embedded documents, the General Accountability Office reported.

DHS’s decision to not move forward on an exit system is criticized by members of Congress from both parties in the NYT piece, in large measure due to the fact that it’s already been ten years since Congress created the legislative mandate for an entry-exit system.

As I noted in my previous post on the exit system, I think the develop of an exit system is a critical part of a border security strategy, and I’m concerned by the idea of scuttling this activity. To be sure, there are real challenges with this in terms of the land border infrastructure (e.g. very few exit “lanes” at major border checkpoints today, creating the need for significant amounts of construction), but many of the other technology issues should be feasible; for example, why did DHS’s RFID test only work 10% of the time when RFID-based EZPASS works with nearly 100% reliability?

For more info, you can read the GAO report on US-VISIT that is mentioned in the story at this link.

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