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US expands visitor fingerprinting to deter attacks

Deborah Charles / Reuters | September 8 2006

The U.S. government will take prints of all 10 fingers of foreigners entering the United States and compare them with those found at sites with ties to terrorists, the country's security chief said on Friday.

The United States now collects the prints of only the two index fingers of foreign visitors. But it will gather prints of all their fingers and thumbs by the end of 2008, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, said.

"We will be able to run everybody's fingerprints against latent fingerprints that we are collecting all over the world in terrorist safe houses, off of bomb fragments that terrorists build, or in battlefields where terrorists wage war," Chertoff said in a speech at Georgetown University.

The department will install new 10-fingerprint reading devices at borders and airports in two years time as it transfers from the two-print system criticized for being incompatible with the FBI's 10-print databases.

Fingerprints are collected as part of the US-VISIT program launched in January 2004 to tighten U.S. borders and prevent other attacks like those of September 11 when 19 foreigners -- who all had U.S. visas -- hijacked four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 people.

Chertoff said getting more prints should deter those who want to enter the United States to carry out an attack.

"Every single terrorist who has ever been in a safe house or a training camp or built a bomb is going to have to ask ... 'Have I ever left a fingerprint anywhere in the world that's been captured?'"

Under US-VISIT, visitors from most countries must have a digital photo and fingerprints taken by an immigration officer as they enter the country. Until now, the data had been checked just against terrorist watch lists and criminal databases.



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