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Secure Identity & Biometrics Association supports security improvements for visa waiver program


The Secure Identity & Biometrics Association (SIBA) recently offered comments in support of the recent security improvements proposed for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Last week, the Obama administration made some key changes to the VWP, including more effective tracking of past travel, fines for any airlines that fail to verify passport information, and helping other countries screen refugees and offer border security.

The program allows registered travelers from the 38 participating countries of the Schengen area, including France, Belgium and other European countries, to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

In the past couple of months, the State Department and the FBI have provided promising reports to the president about how to incorporate better fingerprinting and photographing tehcnologies, as well as an evaluation of the state of intelligence coordination between the U.S. and its allies.

“These government initiatives were conceived in a different era, and while security measures have incrementally improved, we are now facing new border security challenges with the rise of ISIL, which has recruited thousands of foreign fighters from countries that participate in the VWP,” said Michael Dougherty, SIBA’s CEO. “The refugee crisis in the EU and the Levant, which has contributed to a large market for fraudulent passports, is also a new identity management challenge.”

A House bill addressing the VWP is expected to be announced this week, that supports many of the recommendations made in the Senate bill.

The bill recommends that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issue standards for establishing the use of electronic passports containing “biographic and biometric information that can be used to authenticate the identity of travelers through an embedded chip.”

“In order to preserve the benefits of visa-free travel, which is worth billions of dollars to our economy,” said Dougherty, “the U.S. will need to further adapt and strengthen the VWP. As a policy and best practice advocacy association, SIBA applauds the balance that the Administration and Congress are trying to strike between enhancing security and the benefits that follow from business and tourist travel to the U.S.”

SIBA believes there is significant potential in electronic passports considering that the chips embedded in the e-passports can be configured to store multiple types of biometrics data including iris, facial and fingerprint images.

“It is very interesting to look at what ICAO is planning for its next optional standard for e-passports in 2016,” said Dougherty, “which would allow government authorities to actually write to the chip as the passport is used, so that visas and travel stamps would be electronically included on the passport.”

The chip’s recording capabilities could help border officials determine whether the traveler had visited a country or region of conflict that raises concerns, as well as prevent fraud and the use of loss or stolen passports.

The final result should be a fully-automated reading of the passport, as well as secure data-sharing of the passport’s authentication history, to effectively facilitate the vetting process of VWP travelers.

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