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Airlines, Embassies Against Collecting Biometric Info on Exiting Foreigners

06/24/2008 -The airline industry and 34 embassies protested the Department of Homeland Security's plan to collect the biometric information of international visitors leaving the country and verify their identity as public comment on the agency's proposed rules ended yesterday.

Airlines say the exit portion of theU.S.-VISITprogram is too expensive as carriers experience high fuel costs and argue that the program unnecessarily saddles the industry with security upgrades that are the government's responsibility. DHS estimates that the upgrade will cost the airlines $3.5 billion over ten years; the airlines say it will cost them nearly four times that amount as they do not have the necessary information technology infrastructure to meet the program's requirements,reports

“The US-VISIT Exit plan should be terminated now,”James C. May,president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, an airline trade association,said yesterday in a statement.

“Not only is the rulemaking proceeding not justifiable, it is purely and simply against the law," he said. “DHS seems intent on ignoring Congress’ clear direction that the department be responsible for fingerprint collection, and DHS continues to unfairly try to shrug this responsibility onto the airlines."

Foreign embassies, including the members of the European Union, have also resisted airlines having to administer the exit portion of the program,saysthe Washington Post, arguing that it is the federal government's responsibility to enforce its border and immigration laws. Diplomats are also wary of the privacy implications of having the airlines collect and store the biometric information of their citizens.

Last week, the German embassy wrote in a letter to the State Department that private companies should only collect biometric information as "a last resort" and that DHS should store any sensitive personal information, according to the Post.

The Department of Homeland Security has been collecting the images and fingerprints of approximately 100 million people entering the country since 2004. Last November, DHSincreasedthe number of fingerprints collected from international visitors from two to 10 starting at Washington Dulles International Airport before quickly expanding to other airports.

Robert Mocny, US-VISIT director at DHS, says the final rule on the exit portion of the program should be published this fall before the new president takes office.