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Former 9/11 Commission Counsel Urges Biometric Border Exit Implementation Now

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to deploy a full and robust biometric immigration exit system, and re-engineered entry system, “as soon as possible,” former National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States counsel Janice Kephart told a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs “roundtable” this week.

"While the Department of Homeland Security is currently testing certain biometric solutions that are already proven in their speed, accuracy and security in other international airports around the world, ISIS is not waiting to recruit millions who can come to the US visa-free, nor advise its followers to infiltrate the West using fake travel documents and names, as in its 2015 Guide to Surviving in the West,” said Kephart, who currently serves as North America’s Director of BORDERPOL, CEO of the Secure Identity & Biometrics Association and Executive Director of the Airport Entry and Exit Working Group.

“The only way for US border officials to have significant confidence in defeating ISIS and other terrorist and criminal organizations from coming and going through our ports without detection is by using biometrics,” Kephart said, adding, “While a person may try to lie about his name and his travel document, a person’s physiological characteristics cannot lie, nor be lost, forgotten, stolen or forged."

“The only thing that cannot be lost stolen or forged by a traveler is their physical identifier — their biometric.” And “That biometric, coupled with the passport book, will clarify who is the fraudulent traveler and who is not. That is the way to solve the problem,” Kephart told Homeland Security Today.

She said, “The Department of Homeland Security’s continued support of biographic-only for exit out of the United States clarifies that we will not have good immigration statistics, nor be assured we know if a jihadi has left this country if that jihadi chooses to hide their identity. And since we know that there are 10,000 to 20,000 known terrorists residing in the United States, and that that number is from a few years ago, it is highly likely that they are moving in and out of our country undetected.”

But, “Biometric solutions and upgrades are simple, uncomplicated and work. We should be using them now for exit,” Kephart stressed to Homeland Security Today.

"To be clear," Kephart told the committee, "passports are designed to be replicated by governments. Keeping them secure is essential, but difficult. Having biographic information for each individual is also essential. However, biographic information stored on a passport is well known to be subject to fraud and counterfeiting. This is especially so when even ePassports (which contain a chip bearing the information that is on a passport bio page) are not systematically authenticated, as is the case with the US immigration entry system. Yet, when one or more biometrics is added to the biographic border process, then the ability of a fake or manipulated real passport to successfully bypass a port of entry undetected becomes extremely difficult."

“One of the complicating reasons why a biometric exit system is still not in place 14 years after 9/11,” Kephart told the committee, “is because of the eight laws passed since 1996, none of which have provided sufficient incentive for compliance. Congress should pass legislation requiring compliance while also authorizing appropriations for the project, and doing so through an increased visa fee equal to what the travel and tourism industry already receives from foreign nationals applying for visas."

"Surely our security is equal in value to tourism," she stated. "Moreover, authorizing an increase in visa fees could enable biometric exit deployment for at least major international border ports of entry, to be as budget neutral as possible. That is essential when sequestration looms over every budget cycle."

Kephart described in detail 32 countries’ biometric border systems, like that employed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, which annually processes 55 million passengers (the top five busiest US airports add up to 50 million international passengers per year). The Schiphol Airport is in the process of completing a five-year build-out of 80 e-gates used for entry, exit and transfers. Traveler processing for most individuals is 10-15 seconds.

Hong Kong also has integrated biometrics with document reader technology into all land, rail, sea and air ports with no greater than a 30 minutes average wait time at the Hong Kong-China land borders, Kephart pointed out. And “it’s annually processing of 92 million passengers. The entire US northern border processes approximately 60 million passengers total.”

The European Union is piloting a large variety of biometric border controls at all types of ports of entry, covering the entire Schengen area of 26 countries, Kephart noted. And within Schengen, citizens move freely, Kephart said, noting that the January Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris highlighted the vulnerabilities of Schengen nations’ failure to verify the identity of people crossing their borders.

Kephart further told Homeland Security Today that, “INTERPOL has done great work with their Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database, but document information requires constant upkeep and more cooperation than they are receiving. Thus, it is inconceivable that a database with other biographic information can solve the problem of the commitment of ISIS to fake identities and fake travel documents.”

“When you know that 4,000 Italian passport books have disappeared and start turning up with Syrian names and contact information and watch listed, you know there are probably thousands of other passport books out there that have been lost and stolen and not reported. And it is those that can get through immigrationso easily.”

Homeland Security Today reported a year ago that DHS officials had told Congress that “the alarming number of countries that report very little — and in some cases no — lost and stolen passport data to INTERPOL for inclusion in the SLTD database” is “disturbing.”

“Alarmingly, some of the most populous countries in the world, including China, India and Indonesia, have contributed few — if any — records to the SLTD database,” said DHS Policy Office of International Affairs Assistant Secretary and Chief Diplomatic Officer Alan Bersin and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations Acting Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Wagner in joint testimony Friday before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing on passport Fraud.

“Despite the incredible development of the SLTD database since its inception following the September 11th attacks — 40 million records added in the past twelve years is a truly noteworthy accomplishment — the lack of data provided by many INTERPOL member countries remains significant,” Bersin and Wagner told the subcommittee.

“Notwithstanding the considerable progress that has been achieved since SLTD was first introduced, significant challenges remain in realizing its full potential. Of the INTERPOL member countries that participate in SLTD, many do not routinely contribute data on lost/stolen documents and fewer still regularly screen travel documents against the database,” Shawn A. Bray, director of INTERPOL’s office in Washington, DC, told the subcommittee. “This participation varies on a country-by-country basis as a consequence of such factors as national policy; lack of connection or cooperation between law enforcement, issuing and border control authorities; and capacity, i.e.: cost of deployment and existing IT infrastructure.”

   

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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