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Plan to Fingerprint Foreigners Exiting U.S. Is Opposed

Spencer S. Hsu / Washington Post | June 22, 2008

The airline industry and embassies of 34 countries, including the members of the European Union, are urging the U.S. government to withdraw a plan that would require airlines and cruise lines to collect digital fingerprints of all foreigners before they depart the United States, starting in August 2009.

Their opposition could trigger a battle with Congress and the Bush administration, which want the new plan established quickly.

Airlines said the change would cost the industry $12.3 billion over 10 years, not $3.5 billion as the Department of Homeland Security estimated in unveiling the proposal in April. Representatives of the nations affected said it is the duty of the U.S. government, not private companies, to enforce immigration and border security laws, and they raised privacy concerns about companies collecting fingerprints.

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"This proposal to outsource the core government function of border control at a time that airlines around the world are fighting for their economic survival is both unwarranted and counterproductive," said Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association.

The plan to track exiting foreign visitors is part of a program known as US-VISIT, an initiative that Congress first promoted in 1996 and launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to use fingerprints and digital photographs to automate the processing of visitors entering and exiting the country. For security reasons, U.S. officials have put a priority on identifying incoming visitors. Setting up systems to record exits is much more costly but still can help enforce immigration laws and track security risks.

This year, 24 foreign carriers and about eight U.S. carriers have halted operations, gone out of business or sought bankruptcy protection. The carriers stand to lose $6.1 billion this year if the price of oil remains at $135 a barrel, Bisignani said in a letter Thursday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Full article here.

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