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Homeland Security Expands Biometric Security Program

Global Entry program, which speeds international travelers through airport security checks, is expanding to more airports.

The Department of Homeland Security is expanding a pilot project that uses fingerprint scanners and kiosks to speed travelers headed overseas through airport security.

On August 24th, the Global Entry Trusted Traveler program will be available at 13 additional airports in the United States and Puerto Rico, bringing the total number of airports equipped with the technology to 20. The program is also available at airports in the Netherlands through a partnership.

Launched in June 2008, the system makes international travel smoother for people willing to share their biometric data with the government, while lowering costs for Homeland Security by taking focus off of lower-risk travelers. "Expanding this vital program allows us to improve customer service at airports and concentrate our resources on higher-risk travelers," Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

Concerns have been raised about the use of biometric technology as a way of confirming identity, including the possibility of spoofing the system, but a recent Unisys survey of 1,000 Americans found that 70% were comfortable using biometrics.

It might take a while for substantial cost savings to be realized, as the program remains small. About 16,000 people have signed up for Global Entry, and the kiosks have been used 51,000 times.

The program, started by the Customs and Border Protection agency, reduces airport security line wait times by an average of 70%. To participate, U.S. citizens or lawful permanent U.S. residents must submit fingerprint data to the government, pay a $100 fee, undergo a background check, and be interviewed by Customs and Border Protection officers to make sure they aren't security risks. Personal information required to participate include proof of citizenship, place of residence, and travel and job history.

To use the system, travelers walk up to a Global Entry kiosk outside of airport security, slide their passports into a reader, look into a camera, press their fingers to a scanner, and answer customs declaration questions. Fingerprint readers installed this summer use four fingerprints from either hand to verify identity.

There's a zero-tolerance policy for Global Entry; anyone who violates customs laws and regulations during the membership period loses their right to participate.

Global Entry is one of a few biometrics programs underway to facilitate travel. The Transportation Security Agency may soon expand a system used to speed flight crew through airport security.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on leading-edge government IT -- and how the technology involved may end up inside your business. Download the report here (registration required).

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