Four years ago, with the memory of 9/11 still fresh, the US started collecting two digital fingerprints and a picture from each noncitizen visitor. As a result, it already has a database of 90 million fingerprints. With this 10-finger digital print technology, it believes it will add 20 million to 23 million fingerprints each year. DHS will keep them in a database for 75 years.
Other countries are also joining the biometric bandwagon. Japan last year began collecting some fingerprints when foreign visitors enter the country and the European Union is considering it. These countries are also talking about sharing these databases That has raised alarms among privacy advocates who worry the data can be accessed or misused.
"Everyone's data is being stored and disseminated and there are definitely questions about the ability to keep this information secure, as well as whether it will be properly used," says Melissa Ngo, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "We also wonder why exactly there is a need to increasingly grow this database."
Customs and Border Protection officials insist that data will be securely stored and properly used. They also say keeping these databases will make it easier and more convenient for legitimate travelers by more accurately and efficiently verifying visitors' identities.
Since its inception in 2004, the current two-print system has snared 2,000 immigration violations, Mr. Mocny told reporters at the JFK event. Sixty percent were criminal violations; 40 percent were civil immigration violations. That has encouraged immigration experts, who are now hoping the system can be adapted for more efficient immigration enforcement against people who overstay their visas.