Technology Assessment:

Using Biometrics for Border Security

GAO-03-174: Published: Nov 15, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2002.

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As directed in the Fiscal Year 2002 Legislative Branch Appropriations Conference Report and subsequent support letters from interested members of Congress, GAO conducted a pilot program in technology assessment that examined the use of biometric technologies for border control. Biometric technologies are available today and are being used for a variety of applications such as access control and criminal identification and surveillance. GAO considered a number of leading and emerging biometric technologies that could potentially be used for securing the nations borders. The seven leading biometric technologies include facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina recognition, signature recognition, and speaker recognition. To evaluate the effectiveness of biometrics in border control, it is important to recognize that the use of biometric technology would be but one component of the decision to support systems that determine who is allowed to enter the United States and who is not. Biometric technology can play a role in associating a person with travel documents such as visas and passports. When used at a border inspection, the biometric comparison can be used to help decide whether to admit a traveler into the United States. Before any decision is made to implement biometrics in a border control system, the benefits of the system must be weighed against its costs. The purpose of any biometrics initiative is to prevent the entry of travelers who are inadmissible to the United States. The costs of biometric border control system will not be trivial. Important policy implications must be addressed in trade-offs between increasing security and the impact on areas such as privacy, economy, traveler convenience, and international relations. Civil liberties groups and privacy experts have expressed concern about the adequacy of protections under current law for biometric data and an absence of clear criteria governing data sharing.

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