NEW YORK (Reuters) – International visitors flying into New York now face being identified by all ten fingerprints, part of a heightened security system aimed at identifying potential terror suspects and visa fraud, officials said on Tuesday.
The upgraded system, part of the U.S. government’s Homeland Security program and its war on terror, increases the chances of catching illegal or potentially dangerous entrants into the country, officials said at a media briefing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday.
The system expands the digital fingerprinting of international visitors to ten fingers from two.
“Quite simply, this change gives our officers a more accurate idea of who is in front of them,” said Paul Morris, an executive director at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. “For those who may pose a risk, we will have greater insight into who they are.”
The added measure came under fire from critics who claim it is not only ineffective but could violate passengers’ privacy.
“As near as I can tell, there has been absolutely no success from this in catching terrorists,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at BT Counterpane in Santa Clara, California, who has studied the system.
“The real question of these programs is, are they the best use of our terrorism dollar,” Schneier said.
Officials announced on Tuesday the system has been added to several entry points at Kennedy and is already in use at airports in Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and other major U.S. cities.
The upgrade, to be installed at all U.S. ports of entry by September, will cost around $280 million, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The U.S. government has been collecting digital fingerprints and photographs of nearly all non-citizens aged 14 and up entering the country since 2004, officials said, in a Homeland Security program called US-VISIT, at a cost of $1.7 billion.
Visitors’ fingerprints are checked against federal criminal and immigration records, and boosting the system will allow authorities to match fingerprints against a larger number on record, U.S. officials said.
On an average day, almost 14,400 international visitors undergo the fingerprinting process at Kennedy, officials said.
More than 2,000 criminal and visa fraud cases have been detected by the screening process, introduced in response to security concerns following the attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. officials said.
Great Britain has introduced ten-finger scans of visa-carrying foreigners into the country, while Canada and the European Union are working on similar programs.
Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:16pm EDT(Reporting by Karen Brettell; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Todd Eastham)