Monday, April 21, 2008

Two views on the Clear card

Stowe Boyd:

The line for Clear was zero people -- literally no people. There were seven or eight employees lined up, but I walked up with no delay. Stuck in my card, press my index finger to a plate, approved. Then went through the security check in the usual fashion, just with no other people around. Sweet.

Steven Hodson:

Is that time saving really worth having your information in a database that any government agency will now be able to access. Not only that but a database being managed by a third party corporation for profit.

Yes, technically there is no reason why Stowe Boyd's prints can't be sent to the FBI and the CIA and the BBC, BB King, and Doris Day, Matt Busby, dig it.

But, when you're talking about interfaces between agencies, the key barriers aren't technological.

I've previously blogged about the Department of Homeland Security. The theory was that if you threw all of these agencies in the same department, they'd work together and catch bin Laden. It didn't happen, partly because of agency cultures.

Here is an excerpt from an Office of the Inspector General audit:

OIG audits and reviews have also identified difficulties when the Department attempts to work with other agencies to develop and implement successful IT systems. For example, lack of cooperation has cost time in the effort to coordinate fingerprint sharing between the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)....

The OIG audit of the Terrorist Screening Center’s (TSC) efforts to support the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Secure Flight Program found that the TSC had been hindered and delayed in its efforts to prepare for implementation by the DHS-led Transportation Security Administration’s failure to make, communicate, and comply with key program and policy decisions in a timely manner....In addition to perceived problems in planning at DHS, cooperation between the TSC and DHS has been weak.

The OIG has performed a series of reviews of the FBI’s progress toward achieving interoperable fingerprint identification systems with federal immigration authorities....Since 1999 JMD has maintained oversight of the integration of the FBI’s fingerprint identification system, Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), and the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Biometric Identification system, IDENT. The 2001 USA Patriot Act and the 2002 Border Security Act both set requirements for a data system that would allow sharing of identification information in federal law enforcement databases with immigration authorities to determine whether to allow aliens to enter the United States.

Differences between the FBI and the DHS over the number (2 or 10) and type of fingerprints (flat or rolled) to be collected held up progress in this area. DHS deployed an additional system in 2004, US-VISIT, which uses IDENT to collect fingerprints, and is also used by Department of State employees at visa-issuing consulates. The principal barriers to achieving interoperability identified in an OIG December 2004 report were the different fingerprint collection requirements of the two agencies, and disagreement on the details of how to make information readily accessible to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The most recent OIG report on the fingerprint integration issue indicated that the first barrier was resolved by DHS’ May 2005 decision to implement a 10-print standard. Currently, efforts are underway to make IAFIS, IDENT, and US-VISIT fully interoperable by December 2009.

In summary, we were attacked in late 2001, Congress ordered interoperability between the FBI and what became DHS in 2001 and 2002...and the current schedule says that it will happen at the end of the decade. Wow, that's a fast response.

And that's assuming that there's agreement within the agencies. Even within an agency such as the FBI or TSA, there are turf battles that are constantly being fought, both strategically and tactically. (Trust me, I've seen them.)

So we don't have to join Steven Hodson in worrying that Stowe Boyd's fingerprints are sitting in a French criminal database right now. We have to worry whether Stowe Boyd's fingerprints are available to the staff at JFK Airport.

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