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DHS Expands US-VISIT Biometric Capabilities

A $71 million deal with Accenture will pilot voluntary facial- and iris-matching capabilities in the system, which checks the eligibility status of foreign nationals to enter the United States

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The Department of Homeland Security has added new biometric capabilities to its port-of-entry biometric immigration system through a $71 million contract with Accenture.

Through a new pilot program, the systems integrator will test voluntary facial and iris recognition matching to the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT), which checks the eligibility status of foreign nationals for entry into the United States. US-VISIT currently uses digital fingerprints and photographs to identify those enrolled in the program when they pass through a port of entry.

The pilot program will run for 60 days after which the DHS and Accenture will decide whether it will become a permanent part of US-VISIT, Accenture spokeswoman Joanne Veto said in an e-mail.

The new contract also will help meet the concerns raised in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report earlier this year, she said. The GAO criticized the DHS for technology gaps and inconsistencies with data collection that were rendering the system insecure.

[ Government agencies are turning to iris scanning for computer log-ins, too. See DARPA seeks New Methods For Biometric Authentication. ]

Specifically, Accenture will add permanent functionality to the system that allows the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Defense (DOD) to receive and share information from US-VISIT in real time, Veto said. This will allow the agencies to respond more quickly to any alerts the system flags and also ensure better information compatibility.

US-VISIT screens travelers entering the country against a watch list of known or suspected terrorists, criminals, and wanted felons. It also checks them for possible immigration-law violations.

DHS first rolled out US-VISIT in 2004, and Accenture has been working for the DHS since its inception, maintaining operations for its Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), which is the largest biometric identity system in the world.

IDENT processes more than 300,000 identities a day against a database of more than 130 million stored identities, with an average response time of under 10 seconds, according to Accenture.

In addition to the DHS, DOJ, and DOD, US-VISIT also provides biometric information to the State Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.

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