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The 3 Or 4 Slap Solution To The Two-Finger Problem

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

The Three (Or Four) Slap Solution To The Two-Finger Problem

In a pilot program starting this November 29 at Washington’s Dulles airport, travelers arriving in the United States will be fingerprinted using a ten-finger process instead of the current two-finger biometric identification process.

Paul Morris, Executive Director of a division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Robert Mocny, Director of the US-VISIT program of the Department of Homeland Security, gave foreign journalists a heads up on the new system at a press conference this afternoon. Currently, matching only two fingerprints against a database of 90 million (and growing) fingerprints, results in about 70 people a day needing to “go back to secondary”, that is, have the machine-generated fingerprint match examined by a human to see if it actually is a match or is an error. Using a ten-finger match will improve the reliability of the match.

The physical action of taking ten fingerprints involves either three or four “slaps”—contact with the reading/recording scanners—as in, left hand, right hand, both thumbs, or left hand left thumb, right hand, right thumb. The pilot program at Dulles will establish how best ergonomically to situate the scanners, and how long it will take travelers to perform the hand slaps. Real-time matching with the database happens in less than ten seconds.

In response to Scoop’s question whether people from visa waiver countries such as New Zealand--who will encounter this for the first time at the point of entry--should be concerned about the information collected at the point of entry being sent back to anybody in the country of origin, Director Mocny replied:

“We have the ability to share law enforcement information with other law enforcement agencies. We’ve published a Privacy Impact Assessment, and we’ve notified the public of that ability to share with foreign governments in some cases. We’re not currently sharing with the government of New Zealand at this point, but we have the ability to share with law enforcement entities within the US and the ability to share that outside the United States as well.”

November is Privacy Month at US-VISIT, during which time all employees undergo mandatory training about privacy issues. The 2006 Privacy Report published by the Department of Homeland Security notes that there is a dedicated Privacy Officer for the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (US-VISIT), and that there is a redress process available. The Asia Pacific region’s Regional Movement Alert List is largely the outcome of the US-VISIT Privacy Officer’s “leadership and counsel” to APEC countries, according to the report. Under RMAL, Australia was the first country to allow real-time data sharing of information on lost and stolen passports.

That report is available here:

The US-VISIT website about the roll-out of the ten-finger scanners is here:


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