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FOREIGNERS FINGERPRINTED; BIOMETRIC PUSH BEGINS

Since 9/11, government officials have promised that biometrics would be used to tighten border security -- to confirm that travelers are who they say they are. That process begins in earnest this week, when foreigners entering the U.S. by sea and by air will have their fingerprints scanned and their photographs taken as they pass through customs.All 115 U.S. airports that handle international flights and 14 major seaports are covered by the program, called US-VISIT (short for "U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology").US-VISIT will "check an estimated 24 million foreigners each year," according to the Associated Press. "The only exceptions will be visitors from 28 countries - mostly European nations whose citizens are allowed to come to the United States for up to 90 days without visas.""Inkless fingerprints will be taken and checked instantly against a national digital database for criminal backgrounds and any terrorist lists," the AP notes. "Photographs will be used to help create a database for law enforcement. The travel data is supposed to be securely stored and made available only to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis. "By October, citizens from America's closest allies are supposed to have new passports embedded with biometric data. But the program is behind schedule, the technologies are still somewhat suspect, and the requirement is likely to be delayed.THERE'S MORE: According to the New York Times, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge "said that a test-run of the program in Atlanta... screened 20,000 travelers, yielding '21 hits' on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal watch list, including people with prior convictions of statutory rape, drugs and visa fraud."

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