The US-Visit Program - DHS' Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Collection of Alien Biometrics Data upon Exit from the United States at Air and Sea Ports of Departure - Bad for Business and Bad for Florida

On April 24, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) issued a rulemaking proposal that will require aliens subject to US-Visit to provide, upon entering and before departing from the US, biographic and biometric information to commercial air and vessel carriers at air and sea ports of entry.

US-Visit is part of a continuum of security measures that begins overseas and continues through a visitor’s arrival in and departure from the US. It incorporates eligibility determinations made by both the DHS and the U.S. Department of State. The proposed rule requires commercial air carriers and vessel owners and operators to collect and transmit this biometric exit information to DHS, in conjunction with passenger manifest information already being collected and submitted by the carriers. However, the DHS rule would not apply to small carriers and vessel owners and operators, or to general aviation.

DHS’ rule proposes a “performance standard” for commercial air and vessel carriers to collect the biographic and biometric information and to submit the information to DHS no later than 24 hours after air carrier staff secure the aircraft doors on an international departure, or for sea travel, no later than 24 hours after the vessel’s departure from a US port.

According to the proposed rule, carriers will collect the covered aliens’ biographic and biometrics prior to covered aliens international departure. The biometric information must be collected using a biometric collection device that meets the technical specification identified by US-Visit, which must comply with the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) Image Quality Specifications. The carrier will then package this personally identifiable information (“PII”) and transmit it to DHS, using standards provided by DHS. Data transmission will take place over an encrypted network between the carrier industry and DHS. The encrypted networks must comply with the standards set forth in the Interconnection Security Agreements (ISAs) required to be executed prior to external access to DHS systems. Once the PII is received by DHS, DHS will acknowledge receipt to the carrier.

Under the rule, carriers are responsible for the accuracy of the biometric data captured from the covered alien and any other transmitted data. Carriers will also have to collect the biometrics directly from the covered alien. Carriers will have to comply with DHS standards for the secure storage and transmission of the biographic and biometric information. Carriers will have to comply with the IAFIS Image Quality Specifications. Carriers will have to comply with DHS standards for purging their systems of PII secured for and transmitted to US-Visit. Carriers will also have to immediately notify the Privacy Officer of US-Visit in writing in event of unauthorized use or access, or breach of biometric departure manifest information. Needless to say, carriers will have to register their carrier system with DHS, and registration will be contingent upon compliance with standards guidance for carrier systems to be issued by DHS in conjunction with the Final Rule.

Along with all the above-imposed obligations, there is a major obligation the government does not seem to contemplate, and, as it would appear, not to care, the heavy economic burden imposed on the carriers to implement the requirements of the rule. Under the new rule carriers will have to invest millions of dollars in man-hours, programs, system, procedures and more.  Carriers will have to implement the requirements of the rule or simply cease to do business in the US. This particular rule deals an overwhelming negative economic impact on an industry already operating, generally speaking, at the brink of bankruptcy. Add to this, the fact that we live in a state with a complex economy that depends greatly on tourism, and in a country in “transition” with a weakening economy, which has partly resulted from the restrictive immigration requirements imposed by the government, the results are not difficult to foresee. 

South Florida is an important spot for tourist and business visitors, and investors from Europe, Middle-East, and especially from South and Central America. Our state economy depends a great deal on these foreign visitors. This particular rule may not only affect the carriers that bring them here, but will also have a negative effect on industries such as hospitality, banking, real estate, retail, and many others that depend on these visitors. Even further, these requirements would also be imposed along all Florida airports adding further delays and negative economic effects to the different local economies. From a Florida perspective, the new rule is not helping to demonstrate that we remain a welcoming state. DHS' proposed rule might implement a security measure that meets the requirements of the 9/11 commission, but the reality is that it deals another critical economic blunder to the carrier industry, and given its many air and seaports, to Florida as well.

DHS is presently accepting comments about this proposed rulemaking, which are due no later than June 23, 2008. DHS is also holding a hearing on Friday, June 13, 2008, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., EDT, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (2799 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, Virginia, 22202).