President Donald Trump shocked the world January 27 when he signed an executive order temporarily placing severe restrictions on travel to the United States by citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. The same order also rescinded the visas of approximately 60,000 visitors already in the United States from those countries. As of the beginning of February, a federal judge in Washington had blocked the executive order, and the Trump administration was moving quickly to have the judge’s order rescinded.
Originally, the stated intent of the order was to examine the vetting process for both immigrant and nonimmigrant visitors to the United States, then improve it as necessary to prevent the entry of terrorists into the country. But before improvements to this vetting process can be made, officials must examine the existing process and different ways the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) might go about changing it.
One of the biggest challenges for homeland security agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is keeping track of immigrants and visitors after they’ve entered the country. One of the more recent ways DHS is trying to address this challenge is through biometrics. Systems using biometrics rely on the analysis of a person’s physical characteristics, movements and/or behaviors in order to identify them. In the executive order Trump issued on January 27, he told DHS to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States. This is placing a considerable amount of pressure on DHS to develop a system that is both reliable, accurate and effective.
The US government has been using fingerprints to identify foreign visitors since 1994. However, unlike neighboring Canada and many other countries, the United States is not (yet) using iris scans. While these scans add an extra layer of identity and security, they aren’t foolproof.
According to an article in American Banker, Canadian authorities noted a drop in the accuracy of scan matches in September as compared to December. It turned out that some kiosks were receiving more natural light at that time of year than others, making pupils smaller. Since visitors’ pupils were more dilated in December due to lower light, there was less iris to scan.
Read the complete report in the April/May 2017 issue of Homeland Security Today Magazine here.