The federal government has been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the once-obscure science called biometrics, producing some successes but also fumbles in a campaign intended to track foreigners visiting the country and the activities of some Americans, reports the New York Times. Hoping to block the entry of criminals and terrorists into the United States and to improve the enforcement of immigration laws, government officials have in the past several years created enormous new repositories of digitally recorded biometric data – including fingerprints and facial characteristics – that can be used to identify more than 45 million foreigners. Federal agencies have also assembled data on more than 70 million Americans in an effort to speed law-abiding travelers through checkpoints and to search for domestic terrorists.
The immigration control and antiterrorism campaign was spurred by the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent Congressional mandates to improve the nation’s security. But the effort has fallen far short of its goals, provoking criticism that the government is committed to a technological solution so ambitious that it will either never work or be achieved only at an unacceptably high price. “I am not satisfied,” said Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California, who is chairman of a House panel that helps oversee the effort. “We are stumbling toward progress. I would hope we would be sprinting.”