Executive order pressures DHS to expedite development of biometric entry/exit system

January 31, 2017 - 

President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees also calls on the Department of Homeland Security to expedite development of its biometric entry/exit tracking system, according to a report by FCW.

This marks the second time in a year the biometric program’s development has been expedited.

In January 2016, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson stated in a report to Congress and at a hearing testimony that he had recommended to CBP that they “redouble its efforts to achieve a biometric entry/exit system, and to begin implementing biometric exit, starting at the highest volume airports.”

He said it would cost a billions of dollars to outfit CBP officers with mobile handheld biometric devices for exit tracking purposes while the implementation of individual biometric exit kiosks at every gate in every U.S. airport and other departure points would be excessively costly.

At the time, Johnson said the goal was to have the biometric entry/exit system fully implemented at the high-volume airports by 2018.

Security experts said the reduced timeline poses several challenges that could lead to significant issues.

“The challenge of a compressed schedule is that it can impact the quality of service,” said Chris Cummisky, CEO of Cummiskey Strategic Solutions and former acting undersecretary for management at DHS. “Is there ample time to develop adequate technology (such as facial recognition and iris scans) and to interconnect it effectively?”

He said that the DHS’ current biometric system, the Automated Biometric Identification System, “is in need of replacement” after being in operation since 1994.

Biometric data, he said, is at the core of DHS entire security mission, providing screening for a number of other agencies as well as itself.

He added that ensuring the accuracy of the system’s biometric capabilities, which provides screening for DHS and several other agencies, is essential to future operations.

“The key issues with entry-exit have always been logistical issues, particularly at land ports of entry, and funding to overcome these logistical challenges,” said Christian Beckner, deputy director of the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security at George Washington University. “Most of our major international airports are not physically configured for an immigration and customs exit check, since they have mixed domestic/international terminals.”

A former senior DHS official familiar with the agency’s biometrics system development, echoed Beckner’s sentiments regarding logistics at airports and borders.

He said that the logistical problems combined with the organizational issues at DHS could slow down the expedited plans for a new biometric system.

While CBP is responsible for implementing the biometric system, the DHS’ Office of Biometric Identity Management is tasked with developing the technology itself, according to the official.

“The first rule in management is to give the responsible party the resources to accomplish the job, [but] Congress refused to transfer OBIM to CBP,” the official said.

Earlier this week, several experts revealed that the biometric entry/entry system clause proposed in President Donald Trump’s executive order could lead to widespread logistical issues.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.