Provide tight security
from aviation terror


The State Department is planning to include biometric photos, but not fingerprints, on future U.S. passports.

REQUIRED use of electronic identifiers for all foreign visitors to the United States is fast approaching and the State Department is going forward on plans to also use biometrics in future U.S. passports. However, those plans fall short of the requirements for foreign visitors, failing in the long range to assure adequate protection against terrorists entering America from abroad. The government should go the extra mile to provide needed security.

In January, the Department of Homeland Security began requiring foreigners with U.S. visas to provide fingerprints and photos to compare with information on their visas when arriving in the country at 115 airports and 14 seaports. Under the department's pilot US-VISIT program begun several weeks ago, foreign visitors departing the United States at Baltimore-Washington Airport and Miami's cruise line seaport with U.S. visas have been required to do the same.

The program was expanded to Chicago's O'Hare Airport last Monday and will be introduced next month at 12 other airports, including seven with direct connections to Honolulu, and two Los Angeles-area seaports where cargo ships are loaded enroute to Hawaii. After Sept. 30, visitors from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and two dozen other visa-waiver countries will be required to undergo the same scrutiny. That is a reasonable precaution.

Then why does the State Department plan to require only facial photos on U.S. passports and not fingerprints, which are more reliable to match potential terrorists with people on government watch lists? The Washington Post reports that the department has chosen the limited biometric information for new or renewed passports to be issued next spring and thereafter.

Facial recognition from digital photos has an accuracy of 90 percent, while two fingerprints are 99.6 percent accurate, according to the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Photos lacking proper lighting are up to 50 percent inaccurate, according to federal researchers.

"I don't think there's a debate," Charles L. Wilson, supervisor of biometric testing at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, told the Post. "Fingerprints are much better." Obviously, using one method to verify the other is needed to make the procedure virtually foolproof.

The State Department's plan conforms with specifications set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a Canadian agency affiliated with the United Nations. However, the agency has said countries may add fingerprints or scans of the eye's iris to their passports.

Frank E. Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, has expressed concern about the task of fingerprinting the 8 million new or renewed passports that are issued annually. The department already has decided to charge an additional $10 per passport to make the photo system most effective. An additional surcharge to pay for the fingerprinting makes sense to provide protection against terrorism.




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