Mocny: US-VISIT biometric tech becoming world standard

Broad-based use of biometric screening standards worldwide and interoperability between the Homeland Security Department and other agency systems are among the most significant technology improvements since Sept. 11, 2001, says Robert Mocny, DHS director of US-VISIT. Mocny spoke at a Feb. 7 Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, first deployed in 2004, records the entry of travelers to the United States by collecting biometric information, such as digital fingerprints and photographs. Initially, US-VISIT only collected two fingerprints as a basis of comparison against criminal and terrorist watch lists. DHS upgraded the system to 10 prints in 2008.

"We never envisioned that the world would have caught on with the work that we did," Mocny told the audience. "Today, the [10-print] device we developed is now the device of choice for many countries around the world."

US-VISIT's IDENT database stores more than 148 million fingerprint files and is the world's largest law enforcement biometric database, making its records accessible to immigration and other authorized officials. Mocny says the interoperability between US-VISIT and FBI criminal background records enables information to be readily and systematically cross-checked across government law enforcement agency databases.

"Local law enforcement when they arrest someone can now have prints verified with our system because of our interoperability with the FBI," he says. "Every day we get thousands of warrants sent to us from the FBI."

In terms of other technologies, Mocny says US-VISIT is experimenting with iris and facial recognition in a pilot program with Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas. The purpose of the pilot is to test the feasibility and accuracy of iris capture and matching in an operational environment, including storing a facial recognition-quality photograph.   

Internationally, under the Visa Waiver Program, the U.S. has partnered with 37 countries to provide fingerprints for law enforcement purposes, Mocny said. VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. Currently, US-VISIT is helping to set up the first international biometric-sharing system called the Secure Real Time Platform with Australia Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K., he added.

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