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Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - Deadline for Biometric Passports

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Federal News Service April 21, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

SUBJECT: DEADLINE FOR BIOMETRIC PASSPORTS

CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WI)

WITNESSES: SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL; AND SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY TOM RIDGE

LOCATION: 2141 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. SENSENBRENNER: The gentleman's time has expired.

The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Smith.

REP. LAMAR S. SMITH (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary Powell, I have a vested interest in the subject of the hearing today, both as a member of Congress and as the author of the original entry-exit system in 2000.

I know you, Mr. Secretary, and Secretary Ridge are doing everything humanly possible to prevent another terrorist attack. At the same time, it seems to me that if there is one, it's logical to assume that an attack will take advantage of the weakest link in our security chain, which may well be trying to enter the United States from a Visa Waiver country.

It also seems to me that it's human nature to wait till there's a deadline before you perform whatever action you're required to perform.

My concern is that the two-year postponement of the deadline is unnecessarily long, especially considering that a number of countries seem to be willing to implement the new system sooner. So why not move the deadline up to, say, one year, keep the pressure on those countries that seem to be able to implement the system sooner, lock them in and then, if absolutely necessary, extend it again? It just seems to me that two years is too long, but I'd be happy to have you to respond to that.

SEC. POWELL: It was a judgment call, Mr. Smith. We felt that of countries in the VWP program, there are a number of them who clearly can meet the deadline within a year and will start to issue the new passports within a year. But it was just as clear that other countries were further behind. The ICAO standard has only been out there for 17 months for them to work on, and it was clear they were not going to be able to get into it until 2006. So we thought the most prudent thing to do, so that we didn't have to come back once again, was to ask for a two-year extension.

But I will assure you-and Secretary Ridge, I'm sure, would join me in this-that this isn't going to be an opportunity for all of them to lay back and wait until November 30th, 2006. We'll be working each of them to get them online as fast as we possibly can.

REP. LAMAR SMITH: Okay. Very good. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Secretary Ridge, you mentioned a while ago both the facial and the fingerprint biometric identifiers, and we're starting off with the facial and then hopefully moving to include also the fingerprint. Why not reverse the order, for these reasons: The fingerprint biometric identifier I understand can be implemented more quickly, and more than that it's more secure. As you mentioned a while ago we already have ample fingerprint databases, whereas the facial database is new and small. So why not reverse the order? We could do it quicker. It would still be more secure than neither. Why not have the fingerprint first and then move to the facial?

SEC. RIDGE: I think we need to recognize that if we are to lead the international effort to come up with an international standard, as a member of the ICAO international organization that really wrestled with this problem for a couple of years, that we need to embrace the international recommendation to use the facial, and then use the same organization-which did not exclude, by the way-they said you can also use fingerprints or iris scans. But I think as we try to lead and be part of an international effort to create a single standard that we ought to accept the recommendation of the international community. We have backup in our own country with US-VISIT, where we do require the finger scans, and use the same and similar international organizations to build the redundancy in the system.

REP. LAMAR SMITH: It does seem to me, with the security of the United States at stake, we might want to lead the international community and perhaps push the fingerprint before the facial. Obviously, you have reasons not to do that.

SEC. RIDGE: Well, but I will tell you that the international standard we all accept, and we're not waiting to begin the process of convincing our colleagues around the world that we need to take the next step through ICAO and other organizations to add fingerprints to it. The law enforcement community is almost universally in agreement for their own sovereign purposes that a system that includes fingerprints in the future should be part of their system and therefore part of an international system as well. So our continued advocacy will be for at least both, and down the road I might say you might even throw in an iris scan. But --

REP. LAMAR SMITH: Secretary Ridge, one more question I'm going to try to squeeze in. This goes to the US-VISIT program. We are making advances as far as the entry. We have missed the deadline on the exit aspect or the exit component of US-VISIT. We have a pilot program that has made the deadline, but not implementing the entire program. And as you all know, the exit is just as important of a component as the entry because if you don't know when someone's left the country, you don't know who is in the country illegally. Why are we behind on that as well?

SEC. RIDGE: Well, we actually have met the congressional mandate for an exit system because we do record, based on biographical data, who's leaving. But remember, we added-Homeland Security said a name-based entry-exit program might give us little security, but we thought biometrics would be an added level of security. We have several pilot projects up and believe that we will add another level of exit security in addition to the biographical exit system that we have.

REP. LAMAR SMITH: Okay. Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. SENSENBRENNER: The gentleman's time has expired.

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