DHS agencies responsible for biometric exit/entry data would be formalized by new legislation
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) would be codified pursuant to the Office of Biometric Identity Management Authorization Act of 2018, sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ).
OBIM delivers identity services as the steward of DHS’s biometric repository, including capabilities that help Customs and Border Protection (CBP) store and match biometric data as part of the exit/entry program.
The bill, HR 5206, has been referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security, where staffers tell Biometric Update it’s been “well received,” as one put it.
McSally said the bill would “officially authorize” the program “to extend the border far from US shores.”
OBIM was created in March, 2013, replacing the United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) Program, and is a component of DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.
Currently, biometrics collected by OBIM and linked to specific biographic information enable a person’s identity to be established, and then verified, by the government. According the OBIM, “with each encounter, from applying for a visa to seeking immigration benefits to entering the United States, OBIM checks a person’s biometrics against a watch list of known or suspected terrorists, criminals and immigration violators; checks against the entire database of all of the fingerprints DHS has collected since OBIM began to determine if a person is using an alias and attempting to use fraudulent identification; and checks a person’s biometrics against those associated with the identification document presented to ensure that the document belongs to the person presenting it and not someone else.”
OBIM provides the results of these checks to decision makers when and where they need it.
For example, DHS-Department of Justice (DOJ) interoperability was expanded “to allow approved users access to a more comprehensive [Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT)] response, containing up to all data fields captured in IDENT.”
Among DOJ agencies given expanded use is the FBI’s Bioterrorism Risk Assessment Group (FBI/BRAG) and Special Identities Unit (SIU).
BRAG’s role is to enhance national security and public safety by providing timely and accurate determination of an individual’s eligibility to use, possess, or transfer select biological agents and toxins. Candidates are evaluated for access to select agents and toxins against criteria delineated in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, and against prohibitive categories defining a restricted person in the USA PATRIOT Act.
The mission of SIU is to enhance national security by identifying and locating threats to the United States through subject-of-interest queries.
According to DHS, “The expansion of DHS–DOJ interoperability now allows authorized users who have an approved need to know for a specific authorized use to receive up to a full IDENT response. The response will include data fields that the user requests which they are also authorized to have.”
“In contrast, the initial deployment of DHS–DOJ interoperability provided a limited response. The data elements in that response included full name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, photograph, and DHS system record locator,” DHS said.
The FBI Mobile Interoperability Initiative allows FBI personnel to capture biometric samples in field settings for submissions to IDENT through the FBI’s Quick Capture Platform.
“Based on biometrics alone, OBIM has helped stop thousands of people who were ineligible to enter the United States,” the office has stated.
Beginning in May 2015, sharing of biometric information with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency to counter identity fraud, strengthen identity management and provide valuable information to inform respective admissibility determinations allowed Canada to vet the fingerprints of applicants for visas to Canada as well as refugees and those seeking asylum in Canada against IDENT for the first time. As a result, DHS was able to provide Canada advanced warning of likely illicit travelers. Through this information sharing, Canada has succeeded in rejecting a number of fraudulent applications that would have likely been approved. Canada is providing similar access to its biometric data to the United States.
The legislation would require OBIM to be administered by a director who would report to the DHS Secretary, or to another official of DHS as the secretary may direct.
The OBIM director would be required to have “significant professional management experience, as well as experience in the field of biometrics and identity management,” who would lead DHS’s biometric identity services to support counterterrorism, border security, credentialing, national security, and public safety, as well as enabling operational missions across DHS by matching, storing, sharing, and analyzing biometric data.
According to McSally, OBIM will provide biometric identity services to DHS and other federal agencies vital to the nation’s security, and operate DHS’s repository of more than 225 million unique identities that include fingerprint-based biometrics, face and iris holdings, and provide biometric matching, storing and sharing services across the US government. The office also would support DHS’s efforts to complete a biometric exit/entry program.
Under the legislation, OBIM would support law enforcement, public safety, national security, and homeland security missions of other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as appropriate; manage the operation of DHS’s sole biometric repository; manage Biometric Support Centers to provide biometric identification and verification analysis and services to DHS, appropriate federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, appropriate foreign governments, and appropriate private sector entities; in collaboration with the Under Secretary for Science and Technology establish a DHS-wide research and development program to support efforts in assessment, development, and exploration of biometric advancements and emerging technologies; oversee DHS-wide standards for biometric conformity; and work to make such standards government-wide.
In coordination with DHS’s Office of Policy, and in consultation with relevant component offices and headquarters offices, OBIM would enter into data-sharing agreements with appropriate federal agencies to support immigration, law enforcement, national security, and public safety missions; and to maximize interoperability with other federal, state, local, and international biometric systems, as appropriate.
The bill would also require delivery of biometric identity information and analysis capabilities to DHS and its components; appropriate federal, state, local, and tribal agencies; appropriate foreign governments; and appropriate private sector entities.
A second bill, the Immigration Advisory Program Authorization Act of 2018 (HR 5207), would formally authorize the Immigration Advisory Program (IAP), an important component of CBP’s layered security strategy. Specifically, McSally explained, IAP deploys CBP Officers to major last point of departure airports, to advise airlines against boarding foreign nationals that will be deemed inadmissible upon arrival to the US.
“Both of these programs provide necessary services to secure our homeland and protect our borders,” McSally said, noting, “Congress has passed multiple laws since 2004 mandating the creation of a workable biometric exit/entry system, and OBIM is vital to that program’s implementation.”
Meanwhile, “IAP also ensures that dangerous individuals are not able to board planes headed to America. These common sense bills formalize them in statute.”