What Price Security? US-VISIT

It's going to cost U.S. taxpayers a lot to build a biometric computer system that can track the fingerprints and photographs of newly arrived foreigners. Not all of that cost will be in cash.

Attention taxpayers: The United States government is about to spend at least $10 billion to build a state-of-the-art nationwide computer system that will use biometrics to track the comings and goings of visitors to this country.

Hang on to your wallets and a copy of the Bill of Rights.

Congress has mandated that the Department of Homeland Security build and deploy a computer system that can collect and retrieve photographs, fingerprints and related personal data of everyone who lands on these shores.

/zimages/3/28571.gifFor more on the project, read "New DHS Border Plan Scrutinized."

The DHS in turn has assigned another one of those ponderous acronyms that the government always hangs on all big and expensive projects; this one is the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, or US-VISIT.

This system is supposed to enable the government to effectively check in and check out every non-citizen on arrival and departure. Presumably the government will also be able to use it to check out and check in every U.S. citizen who visits foreign lands. If it works, US-VISIT will link up federal law enforcement and intelligence databases to automatically identify suspected terrorists or common criminals who are wanted for arrest in the United States or overseas.

The designers are going to have to build massive databases to store and process the biometric data and link them to a variety of existing law enforcement agency databases. This alone will be a remarkable achievement considering that inter-agency rivalries helped ensure information wasnt shared in a highly automated fashion.

In short, building US-VISIT will be like building a new space shuttle from scratch. Delays and cost overruns are a virtual certainty.

Next page: US-VISIT in every port.

John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s eWEEK.com since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...