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INS reform is doomed to fail

LexisNexis' chief privacy officer, Norman A. Willox Jr., warns that catastrophe awaits unless the government can fix the lingering technology loopholes in the system and develop a foolproof way of authenticating the identity of non-U.S. residents.

Much has been made of some recent high-profile incidents--or accidents--on the part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. With calls for restructuring coming from virtually every corner of Capitol Hill, I was somewhat encouraged by the recent vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to restructure the INS.

Amid all the debate and controversy over INS policies and procedures, however, we may be missing a bigger, more fundamental point, one that poses a serious threat to national security and global commerce: The INS and other governmental agencies still do not have the tools or information they need to qualify individuals attempting to enter the country or to enforce regulations on foreign nationals already within the United States.

What's more, information on the backgrounds of immigrants or visitors from countries around the world--and most particularly, the 26 countries on the Office of Foreign Asset Control List as well as other law enforcement lists--simply doesn't exist.

Certainly the vast majority of men and women entering the United States do so for good and worthwhile reasons. But, as we now know all too well, a tiny but extremely destructive minority is trying to infiltrate the country for the worst imaginable purposes. These few have become masters of false identities and fraudulent identification documents. And without a system in place to identify them and thwart their efforts, we risk suffering another catastrophe.

Any attempt to help the INS reform will fail if this key loophole is not closed.

Amid all the debate and controversy over INS policies and procedures, however, we may be missing a bigger, more fundamental point, one that poses a serious threat to national security and global commerce.
Information on U.S. citizens has been integrated into a computerized application that uses statistical models to measure the information provided by an individual in order to score the likelihood of a positive identification. This application has been used successfully for some years in the instant credit granting business. More recently, it was used for certain governmental purposes--particularly following September 11.

However, existing identity authentication processes have not yet been used to authenticate non-U.S. residents. That's because the identifying information pertaining to these individuals is not yet available.

Nevertheless, nodes of this information are available and, if retrieved, mathematical models can successfully transform the data into identification scores similar to those used for identifying U.S. citizens.

But an effort to collect and aggregate that data would not be easy or inexpensive. This data is often only in paper form. Congress needs to make the authentication of non-U.S. citizens entering the country a top priority within the broader homeland security discussion and also a priority for promoting global commerce.

Any attempt to help the INS reform will fail if this key loophole is not closed.
Some U.S. companies have the tools and resources in place to collect information from foreign countries and integrate this data into a desktop application for identity verification purposes. But there remain challenges to more widespread implementation.

Government agencies must partner with private industry and devote the necessary resources to collect this information. Along with building a repository to house and maintain current data, the information must get integrated into current computer and infrastructure systems.

It is arguably the largest, most gaping hole in our efforts to protect the country from a host of ills including drug trafficking, money laundering, identity theft and most importantly, a repeat in some form of the tragedy of September 11.