Boston airport helps inaugurate new system for fingerprinting international travelers

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
An international visitor to the United States had all their fingerprints scanned by a U.S. Customs agent Tuesday at Logan International Airport in Boston. The Department of Homeland Security is upgrading from collecting two fingerprints to 10 fingerprints on all international visitors to enhance security and facilitate legitimate travel in the United States. (Winslow Townson ~ Associated Press)

BOSTON -- As a foreign traveler, Punit Pawar is used to the security when he flies into the U.S., so he barely noticed Tuesday when he was asked to put his 10 fingers on a digital scanner as part of an enhanced security system rolling out at airports across the country.

"It didn't take much of my time, so it didn't bother me," said Pawar, a citizen of India and a student at Boston's Northeastern University. "I'm OK with it, if this is what they need to do for security."

Since 2004, nonresidents traveling internationally have been required to allow airport personnel to scan their two index fingers at airports as part of a program called US-VISIT. But now, foreign travelers will be asked to scan all 10 fingers, an enhancement the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hopes will help officials more closely monitor watch lists of suspected terrorists, criminals and immigration violators.

Logan Airport, where two of the passenger planes involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took off, became the third airport to use 10-finger scanners last week. Dulles Airport, serving Washington, D.C., began using the devices in November, while Atlanta's airport began using the new system this month.

Seven other airports are scheduled to start using the new system by the end of February, including Chicago's O'Hare, San Francisco, Houston, Miami, Detroit, Orlando and New York's Kennedy.

By the end of the year, the devices are expected to be up and running in all of the nation's international airports, as well as seaports and border points.

Robert Mocny, director of the US-VISIT program, said the new device scans fingerprints from travelers and within a matter of seconds matches them against more than 3.2 million fingerprints of people in FBI and Department of Defense databases. Mocny said going from two fingerprints to 10 improves matching accuracy and reduces the number of false matches.

"By having this additional data, the machine will be able to say with more certainty that this is the person, this is a match," Mocny said after officials used the new scanners on international travelers arriving at Logan Tuesday.

Steven Farquharson, director of field operations for the Boston office of Homeland Security, said that if a traveler's prints match those in a database, the traveler will be taken to a separate area of the airport and questioned.

International passengers arriving at Logan on Tuesday were asked to place their right four fingers, then their right thumb, their left four fingers, then their left thumb, on a small, square scanner. A camera snapped a digital photograph of their faces. Several couples traveling together completed the process in about three minutes.

Pawar said he did not find the new system intrusive or time-consuming.

"I don't think it was too private," he said. "I don't see any problem with it, if you haven't done anything wrong."

About 2,000 international passengers a day will be scanned at Logan.

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