DHS Finds Fault in Coast Guard’s Biometric Records Management

New York From SeaA new report has found that the US Coast Guard’s (USCG) ineffective use of its biometric system has created a security gap. The report comes from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

The USCG uses a handheld fingerprint scanning system on 23 of its ships to allow officials to identify individuals attempting to cross the US border illegally, as part of an effort to identify criminals, terrorists, and other persons of interest. In 2012, the USCG made a switch from a 2-fingerprint system to a 10-fingerprint system, presumably to help it monitor these individuals more effectively, though the IG found insufficient official documentation relating to the upgrade and therefore couldn’t even determine with certainty if it had been approved through the appropriate channels.

Making matters much worse, the USCG continued to neglect to reconcile its biometric data with the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) – a national database shared with a range of law enforcement and security agencies. The USCG didn’t maintain its own comprehensive database, so this has created an obvious problem in terms of how the system works on a fundamental level.

The silver lining is that it isn’t the biometric technology itself that is at fault here, but rather the records-keeping on the part of USCG staff. Indeed, biometric technology is of keen interest to such government agencies: Last November, for example, the DHS issued a call for private sector partnerships to develop the technology for its purposes, and a few months prior to that the US Senate had allocated $249 million to the Office of Biometric Identity Management, which is now preparing an update on some of its progress. As for the USCG, the DHS provided seven recommendations in its report to correct the issues, and the USCG has conceded to all of them.

March 16, 2015 – by Alex Perala