Border Security:

Challenges in Implementing Border Technology

GAO-03-546T: Published: Mar 12, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2003.

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Nabajyoti Barkakati, Ph.D.
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One of the primary missions of the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) focuses on border control--preventing the illegal entry of people and goods into the United States. Part of this mission is controlling the passage of travelers through official ports of entry into the United States. Facilitating the flow of people while preventing the illegal entry of travelers requires an effective and efficient process that authenticates a traveler's identity. Generally, identifying travelers at the ports of entry is performed by inspecting their travel documents, such as passports and visas, and asking them questions. Technologies called biometrics can automate the identification of individual travelers by one or more of their distinct physiological characteristics. Biometrics have been suggested as a way of improving the nation's ability to determine whether travelers are admissible to the United States.

GAO found that biometric technologies are available today that can be used for border control. However, questions remain regarding the technical and operational effectiveness of biometric technologies in applications as large as border control. Before implementing any biometric border control system, a number of other issues would have to be considered, including the system's effect on existing border control procedures and people, the costs and benefits of the system, and the system's effect on privacy, convenience, and the economy. Furthermore, technology is only part of the solution. Effective security requires technology and people to work together to implement policies, processes, and procedures. At land border ports of entry, DHS faces several challenges including ensuring that the inspections process has sufficient integrity to enable inspectors to intercept those who should not enter our country, while still facilitating the entry of lawful travelers; ensuring that inspectors have the necessary technology, equipment, and training to do their job efficiently and effectively; and providing inspectors the access to necessary intelligence information.

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