Hundreds of Thousands of Possible Cases of Foreign Visitor Identity Fraud

New system created by the Department of Homeland Security has a fatal flaw.

The status of a flaw in the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) entry and exit biometric system that has already led to hundreds of thousands of potential cases of identity fraud remains unresolved even after the Inspector General for DHS briefed a House Homeland Security Sub-Committee last week.

On August 13, 2012, the Office for Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security published a report in which it detailed 825,000 cases of potential identity theft in the US-VISIT system. Their report was entitled "US-VISIT Faces Challenges in Identifying and Reporting Multiple Biographic Identities."

US-VISIT is the biometric system for every foreigner attempting to enter or exit by air or by water. Any foreigner that enters or exits the country by air or sea first has their fingerprints taken and those fingerprints are put into a database and shared with other agencies for past criminal history or any other potential red flags.

The DHS OIG’s office found that a fatal flaw in this system means that the system doesn’t recognize when the same individual enters and/or exits using different names. In other words, if the same individual first enters using one name and exits using another name, the US-VISIT system won’t recognize and match-up the fingerprints to both names. As such, authorities don’t know if the same person had previously entered the country under a different name because of this flaw.

On September 11, 2012, Charles Edwards, the current Inspector General for DHS, testified at the Maritime and Border Sub-Committee hearing in the House Homeland Security Committee. He testified as part of larger hearings on preventing future terrorist attacks held on the anniversary of 9/11.

“The Automated Biometrics Identification System (IDENT) maintained by US‐VISIT contains hundreds of thousands of discrepant records. We also determined that the identity resolution processes at US‐VISIT are manual and not specifically targeted to identifying individuals who may have presented fraudulent identities to attempt to enter the United States,” said Edwards at those hearings.

He continued, “The manual review process presents challenges considering the large volume of data that exist on travelers who sought entries into the United States. Specifically, our analysis of data from IDENT identified more than 800,000 instances affecting 375,000 individuals where the name and/or date of birth did not match other records with the same fingerprint identification number.

“These hundreds of thousands of records with inconsistent biographic data limit the effectiveness and efficiency of using biometrics to identify and prevent the use of fraudulent identities at U.S. ports of entry.”

Because of conflicting 9/11 ceremonies, the hearing had to be cut short and none of the members had time to ask the IG any specific questions about this issue and potential solutions.

A solution appears to be in limbo. While the OIG report was specific in identifying the problem, it was vague in identifying a solution. The OIG report largely left the issue in the hands of DHS, which has failed as of now to provide a specific solution.

According to the DHS OIG report, the US-VISIT office has investigated more than 1,200 of these discrepancies and put 189 names on the terror watch list as a result of those investigations.

“In response to our second recommendation, the DHS Under Secretary for NPPD states that US-VISIT has initiated a proactive review of processes to identify potential fraud used by individuals attempting to enter the United States or obtain immigration benefits. This is performed through a review of multiple alien registration numbers. NPPD reported that to date, US-VISIT has researched more than 1,200 records and added 192 individuals to the Watch List.”

As of now, no further hearings have been scheduled and DHS has not taken any actions to try and fix the problem.

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Tags: fraud, Identity