The Failure of US-VISIT

US-VISIT is the program to program to fingerprint and otherwise keep tabs on foriegn visitors to the U.S. This article talks about how the program is being rolled out, but the last paragraph is the most interesting:

Since January 2004, US-VISIT has processed more than 44 million visitors. It has spotted and apprehended nearly 1,000 people with criminal or immigration violations, according to a DHS press release.

I wrote about US-VISIT in 2004, and back then I said that it was too expensive and a bad trade-off. The price tag for “the next phase” was $15B; I’m sure the total cost is much higher.

But take that $15B number. One thousand bad guys, most of them not very bad, caught through US-VISIT. That’s $15M per bad guy caught.

Surely there’s a more cost-effective way to catch bad guys?

Posted on January 31, 2006 at 4:07 PM70 Comments


Don January 31, 2006 4:34 PM

Not to mention we need to consider the definition of “bad guy” in this context. Undoubtedly among the people caught were folks who violated some of the more arcane visa rules, like how long you can go home to visit in the middle of a student visa. 15M seems a little steep to snag the kid who decided to skip a semester at university…

Pat Cahalan January 31, 2006 4:41 PM

Another question would be, how many N of those 1,000 would have been caught anyway without US-VISIT.

The actual cost is then $15B/(1,000-N).

I suspect you’d find that the actual cost per bad guy is higher than the $15M.

Rob January 31, 2006 5:17 PM

Now, I’m the last person to defend US-VISIT. But to assess the value at $15 Million per bad guy caught is too simplistic . Certainly there is some value provided by deterrence?

mark January 31, 2006 5:38 PM

I wonder if my martial arts instructor was one of the 1000. He’s back and teaching, and some lawyer is a lot richer. He also posed no threat, but a bunch of us (largely law enforcement guys) missed a lot of classes because of this silliness.

MathFox January 31, 2006 5:46 PM


I can tell you that for some people “deterrence value” makes it more worthwhile to circumvent a measure. For criminals it increases the price they can ask for smuggling people over the border.
A few of the obvious holes in the scheme:
– the Canedian/Mexican border; the coast
– US citicens and residents
– People holding fake or wrongfully obtained citicenship or residency papers.

Security theatre or signs of F*****m?

Adam January 31, 2006 5:46 PM

You could just offer a $1m reward per bad guy convicted? I bet you’d get more hits, and it would be far less intrusive.

Pat Cahalan January 31, 2006 5:48 PM

Certainly there is some value provided by deterrence?

Maybe. Do you think it justifies a $15B price tag? That’s a pretty large dollar tag for some nebulous deterrent effect.

Bruce Schneier January 31, 2006 6:02 PM

“Now, I’m the last person to defend US-VISIT. But to assess the value at $15 Million per bad guy caught is too simplistic. Certainly there is some value provided by deterrence?”

Certainly this is a simplistic argument, but it’s approximately correct.

I don’t think any serious terrorist is deterred by a system as silly as this one. But you should definitaly add the loss of tourism due to the more onerous procedures to the “cost” column.

Bruce Schneier January 31, 2006 6:03 PM

“You could just offer a $1m reward per bad guy convicted? I bet you’d get more hits, and it would be far less intrusive.”

Although you’d have people gaming the system: someone turns into a bad guy, his friend turns them, and they split the difference after jail time. I’m sure it would happen.

Rich January 31, 2006 6:08 PM

What about the hidden costs? What about reduced tourism because people don’t want to deal with the hassle? What about businesses who have to spend more time and money getting their consultants in? What about the lost business to martial arts instructors who are held up by false positives? The simple cost of running the program is the tip of the iceburg.

supachupa January 31, 2006 6:16 PM

I think this program as well as the overall US way of treating visitors is great for deterring would-be baddies. For example, although I am American, I live abroad and find the way customs/immigration has become to be so cruel that I don’t want to ever visit my stinking country again.

I’m sure it’s deterring a lot of people from ever visiting (i.e. tourist $$$) the US.

A lower cost method of deterring terrorists, though would be to simply stop trying to control every country. I’ll bet that would be a lot more effective, too.

Jarrod January 31, 2006 6:49 PM

Flip it around and look at it the other way: That’s $340 per person tracked. I actually see that as a heavier cost than the per-perp cost.

Matt January 31, 2006 7:19 PM

In reply to supachupa, yup, my snowboarding holiday this year is in Canada, not the US. It’s not only beacause of the grief you get at US immigration but that’s certainly a large part of it.

I really do dislike being treated like by scum.

Matt January 31, 2006 7:26 PM

Way to screw up a comment.

That’s “treated like scum”.

At base though, I’ve had a hellish time at US immigration lines even before the recent changes (“you’ve missed a box. Get back in the queue an fix it….” was a favourite). The effort that the US government puts into putting off friendly visitors really does impress me.

I’ve not been over since 2004 and following that I’m not in any great hurry to come back despite loving the US enormously.

a January 31, 2006 8:03 PM

“Although you’d have people gaming the system: someone turns into a bad guy, his friend turns them, and they split the difference after jail time. I’m sure it would happen.”

Not much different to some politician dreams up the scheme then farms out the $15b to his friend’s companies….. [Guess it comes down to who you’d rather have the money]

Latin Philo January 31, 2006 8:08 PM

Has anybody seen the US-Visit “ATM” type machines installed by the thousands about a year ago inside US airports switched on (or even better, working). I make a point of seeking them out at airports to see if they are working.

What does this mean in practice? US-Visit keeps track of visitors coming in but are clueless about who left the USA. What a truely great and responsable use of my hard earned tax money.

The 20 terrorists/criminals that caused 9/11 overstayed their legally obtained Visas. They did not come into the country illegally. So how would the current system of tracking inbound traffic and not outgoing traffic have stoped them?

Maybe I should pick up one of these “ATM”s the next time and sell it on e-bay. That way I can get my share of the 7% increase in spendable income that I heard so much about in Presidential speeches over the past few weeks. 🙁

antibozo January 31, 2006 8:14 PM

An aside:

For those who may be interested, Bruce Schneier was on Diane Rehm’s nationally syndicated radio show this morning, along with two other guests, for an interesting program entitled “Surveillance Society”. (Rather modest of him not to mention it on the blog–at least, I saw no mention of it.)

Here’s the program info; streamable versions of the program are available in Real and Windows Media formats:

Tom January 31, 2006 9:30 PM

Anyone know if its a legal requirement for aliens to give their fingerprints?

Last time I saw those ATM US-Visit machines no one was using them on departure.

Dave January 31, 2006 9:42 PM

Our business in New Zealand requires us to travel to Britain several times a year. We have the choice of travelling west-about or east-about, not much difference in travelling time, but since the introduction of US-Visit we have always gone through Asia and the Middle East, often with a stop-over on the way, and US-Visit is a significant factor in our decision making. I’m sure we are not alone, and therefore this must be costing the US economy in lost visitor nights and spend on food and accommodation, and that is an ongoing cost, not a one off.

hlswatch January 31, 2006 9:47 PM


It’s misleading to compare current results to future spending. The OMB notes that total cumulative spending through FY 2006 on US-VISIT is $1.4 billion, or $330-$340m/year in the last few years. These are the figures against which you should be judging the 1000 apprehensions (which is a two-year number, acc. to this fact sheet: It’s still a lot, but it’s not $15 billion.

Also, how do you know that “most of them are not very bad.” Here’s what the DHS press release says about these 1,000 (actually 970) folks:

“Biometrics have enabled US-VISIT to intercept, at U.S. ports of entry, more than 970 people with histories of criminal or immigration violations, including federal penitentiary escapees, convicted rapists, drug traffickers, individuals convicted of murder, and numerous immigration violators.”

They sound like a pretty bad lot to me…although of course we don’t know the mix.

One more thing – keep in mind that the key potential benefit of US-VISIT – detecting visa overstays – is not yet deployed, since it depends on the on “exit” portion of the program (which will admittedly be expensive at the land borders, given construction issues). Visa/entry overstay detection and enforcement will be one of the very significant metrics on which to judge its future success.

Longwalker January 31, 2006 9:52 PM

Dollars per denied entry would be a decent metric if the sole objective of US-VISIT was domestic security. The right metric in this case is how many dollars have been given out to politically connected firms in exchange for kickbacks to the ruling party. By this metric, US-VISIT has been a 15 billion dollar success.

Michael Ash January 31, 2006 10:22 PM


Also, how do you know that “most of them are not very bad.” Here’s what the DHS press release says about these 1,000 (actually 970) folks:
“Biometrics have enabled US-VISIT to intercept, at U.S. ports of entry, more than 970 people with histories of criminal or immigration violations, including federal penitentiary escapees, convicted rapists, drug traffickers, individuals convicted of murder, and numerous immigration violators.”

If you just glance at it, this kind of wording implies that most of the people caught were convicted criminals. But if you read between the lines, it looks pretty clear that of the people caught, a small percentage were felons of various types, and most of them were people who made minor mistakes like staying three days later than their tourist visa allowed, visiting their home countries for a few days too long, etc. It doesn’t take a great deal of inattention to become an “immigration violator” if you aren’t a citizen. Certainly these people are still criminals (immigration law is law, after all) but that doesn’t justify this kind of intrusion or expense.

Zaphod February 1, 2006 12:48 AM

Are we all being a bit over sensitive?

I travel to the States two or three times per year. Sometime I come in with my visa sometimes I choose to use the Visa waiver program.

I’ve never had any problems with Immigration. Yes, the half hour queuing is a pain.

Hell, last year, I was half way across the Atlantic, with my East European partner when it dawned on us that she didn’t have her visa (in her expired passport at home). There was no hassle or ‘ugliness’ at Immigration. Yes we were diverted to another area and after an hour of investigation (probably 10 minutes of actual interview) she was allowed into the US. OK 200 USD the poorer but much preferable to being denied entry.

Oops this is a bit of a ramble and off topic but I just don’t see this problem at Immigration. Hey maybe I’m a VIP and I don’t even know it……….


pseudonymous in nc February 1, 2006 2:39 AM

I don’t think any serious terrorist is deterred by a system as silly as this one. But you should definitaly add the loss of tourism due to the more onerous procedures to the “cost” column.

Absolutely. I know of conferences that were moved outside the US because of US-VISIT. I know of tourists who chose not to travel to the US because of the program. It’s humiliating in the extreme — especially when accompanied by the other heavy-handed security measures — and considered security theatre, especially by those who have had to deal with terrorism for much longer.

The effort that the US government puts into putting off friendly visitors really does impress me.

You should see how they treat friendly immigrants. It’s enough to make you sympathetic for those who sneak across the border, because they retain more dignity stuffed in a truck or trekking across a desert.

Last time I saw those ATM US-Visit machines no one was using them on departure.

It will supposedly affect people when they attempt to re-enter the US; and I suspect that this summer will throw up lots of horror stories of family holidays in Florida ruined because a parent walked obliviously past the US-VISIT booth a year previously.

Nigel Sedgwick February 1, 2006 4:31 AM

Concerning detection of visa duration infringements, how does US-VISIT contribute to them? Surely the visa durational validity was always there for checking? So if they are counted within the 970, that’s a count too far in justification of US-VISIT.

Surely the “only” visa infringements for which US-VISIT is really offering additional detection, is of being an impostor trying to use someone else’s valid visa?

That is in addition to detection of wanted felons from visa waiver countries, who are presumably traveling under false identities (or where when identified as felons). Those travelling under their own identities in contravention of any imposed immigration ban surely would have been detected pre-US-VISIT.

Surely the US Government, being as open as it is, will have appropriate details available for public scrutiny, so the question could be answered as to whether, within the 970, the reported immigration violations were serious and were additional to those detectable prior to the introduction of US-VISIT.

Even if the immigration infringements within the 970 are of the more serious sort, the number detected is difficult to view as value for money.

The detection of wanted felons is an interesting issue. Presumably even more would be caught if those carrying US passports (presumably involving false identities) were also checked. But why stop there? A small proportion of those driving along the USA’s highways are also wanted felons (US citizens or not): why not carry out random checks?

Consideration of the appropriateness of checks within the USA surely makes it clear that the purpose and justification of US-VISIT is against immigration violations only. Benefits (such as detection of wanted felons traveling under false identities) should be recorded under detection of use of a false identity, with the existence of the felony being of, at most, secondary interest; the nature of the felony should be, at most, of tertiary interest.

If the US Government makes claims for US-VISIT beyond those additional to pre-existing detection methods for immigration violations, it should only do this on the basis of improved cost-effectiveness (which seems to be absent).

If the US Government makes claims for US-VISIT beyond those specific to the crossing of borders, it should only do this on the basis that such checks (as are made additionally at borders for US-VISIT) are valid elsewhere too. Does the US citizenry really want street/highway checks: for being a felon, or for being a non-US citizen and being a felon?

Best regards

Swiss Connection February 1, 2006 4:31 AM

My wive travelled to the states 10 years ago and the US authorities forgott to sign her out when she left. EVERYTIME she is back to the US (as part of an airline crew with uniform in the whole team including two captains) she get scrutinized for 2 hours even though she has perfectly valid visa, passport and crew identity papers. Not even with the written support of her employing Airline has she been able to clear her name off of the “Bad Guys” database.

Orlando February 1, 2006 6:13 AM

Certainly there is some value provided by deterrence?

I know Air Canada has increased certain transit flights significantly because of all the South Americans on the way home from elsewhere, “deterred” by the idea of being treated like scum for the sin of changing planes in the US.

Huge February 1, 2006 6:24 AM

I’ve been regularly visiting the USA from Britain for nearly 30 years (my mother still lives there; my father is (or rather was – he died last year) American, although I’m British). In that time I would say the attitude of the INS Officers has improved noticeably; from outright hostility to indifference. The introduction of US-Visit made no difference that I could see. The facilities for non-citizen entrants have certainly improved – they used to be funneled through one or two booths out of dozens and it has taken me four hours to enter through Newark and LA airports in the past. These days there are far more booths, and once all the US Citizens have entered, they allocate those booths to non-citizens, rather than the INS officers just ignoring people.

What has changed for the worse are the ludicrous, illogical, unenforceable (and so far as I can tell, unenforced) FDA rules on mailing food items (

gus February 1, 2006 7:02 AM

$15m per bad guy caught is expensive, but $15b for all those peoples personal infromation and biometric data … priceless.

KeepItSimple February 1, 2006 7:20 AM

You all just keep patting each other on the back for how “ludicrous” and “stupid” all of these safeguards are.

These safeguards are always “wasteful” to the ignorant, because you can’t measure the terrorist attack that never happened or the cell member that was not allowed into the US because of the system.

I suppose you would all prefer the cheaper alternative where thousands die because the system was not in place? Would you give up your smug attitudes then? Doubtful…you would just move on to the next thing that you can blather on about as a waste so you can feel superior for a minute…sad.

Rounin February 1, 2006 7:36 AM

This is just plain silliness. You can’t evaluate a 2-year old federal government program in terms of blanket sucess or failure based on one statistic.

Michael Ash February 1, 2006 8:41 AM


‘These safeguards are always “wasteful” to the ignorant, because you can’t measure the terrorist attack that never happened or the cell member that was not allowed into the US because of the system.’

And I suppose you’re somehow less ignorant than we are, possessing knowledge of attacks that were prevented?

There is no reason to believe that this program has prevented any attacks. This is because of various irrefutable facts such as the people responsible for past terrorist attacks being in good standing, having all of their paperwork in order, and not being on any lists. It is up to you to show that attacks have been prevented, not up to us to show that they have not.

Adam February 1, 2006 9:00 AM


With regards to the perverse incentive problem (“Although you’d have people gaming the system: someone turns into a bad guy, his friend turns them, and they split the difference after jail time. I’m sure it would happen.”), scale the incentives against jail time, such that more severe crimes carried larger penalties. I think you want a scale that’s roughly logarithmic, with more time in jail leading to larger rewards. Thus, a year in jail might be worth $50,000, while 20 year sentences could carry a reward of a few million. It would take quite a friendship to survive one half going to jail for 20 years with an expectation that half the money would be around when you get out.

USVisitor February 1, 2006 9:31 AM

US-Visit is simply bogus.
I have a H1B visa, I have entered and exited the US several times, and immigration must have had like 4 fingerprint scans of me. However on my last reentry they take me aside just because my name was similar to some illegal alien immigrant.

If just the name is cause for this, then what good is the fingerprinting anyway ? It is just for show! I still am chocked about that. I expected better.

WaitAMinute February 1, 2006 9:51 AM

“It has spotted and apprehended nearly 1,000 people with criminal or immigration violations”

Is this program looking for terrorists or criminals?

I would expect that “real” terrorists would not have a criminal background, immigration problems, etc. So, in this case, the system is a 100% failure for catching terrorists.

Its great that a system like this is catching criminals, but then lets call it what it is, a system for helping our police force catch criminals coming into the US, and NOT a system for detecting terrorists.

I hate it when programs like this are “sold” to the US population on the basis that it will deter terrorism, when in fact, the programs do nothing more than help our police force catch ordinary criminals (which also isn’t bad). Let’s just call a duck a duck.

Zwack February 1, 2006 9:57 AM

“These safeguards are always “wasteful” to the ignorant, because you can’t measure the terrorist attack that never happened or the cell member that was not allowed into the US because of the system.”

Let me think about this one…

How would we know that a terrorist attack didn’t happen because a cell member wasn’t allowed into the US?

Well, if he was one of a small group of people who had immigration violations, and was deported then I’m sure we’d never know… But neither would the Government. So, given that nobody has any proof whether this did or did not happen Occam’s razor applies and we can safely assume that it didn’t happen.

If he was a known terrorist then if they could they would arrest him, and that would be considered front page news. At the very least they would have publicised that to the skies as proof that we don’t need any freedom… If there is one thing that this administration can do well it is a PR campaign.

So, using normal considerations…

US-VISIT has helped protect us from 1,000 minor “criminals” most of whom were probably immigration violations. In some cases immigration violations can be as simple as “I didn’t know I needed a Visa to come into the country for a few weeks in order to visit my fiance.” (Yes, I know someone that this happened to. Her fiance is in the coastguard.)


Pat Cahalan February 1, 2006 10:50 AM

I wonder if it’s possible to get a detailed list of the criminal/immigration offenses (and the number of each) from the TSA under the Freedom of Information Act?

mark February 1, 2006 10:57 AM


‘you can’t measure the terrorist attack that never happened or the cell member that was not allowed into the US because of the system.’

Exactly. Aren’t there a bunch of jokes about the guy that does some absurd thing to keep away elephants, and when told that there were no elephants in that region, he says, see it works!

Rich February 1, 2006 11:13 AM

Count me and my wife as lost tourism dollars. We won’t go to the US if we must be fingerprinted to do so.

M. February 1, 2006 11:22 AM

US VISIT is certainly not a perfect program, but I would argue that it does not add “more onerous procedures” than what many other countries have for entry. The minute, on average, it takes to process visitors through immigration (not including wait time) is hardly a burden. Also, what we see at the airport is only one part of a larger system that tracks visa applicants (and suspected “bad guys” be they terrorists or smugglers or traffickers). Without capturing photos and fingerprints at the border, it would be difficult to implement some of the other aspects of that system.

jammit February 1, 2006 11:46 AM

Not to bash what you’ve said, but I’ll add my $0.02 into this. All of the 9/11 hijackers entered the US legally. They overstayed their visa, which really isn’t bad, just frowned upon. If you buy a plane ticket before your visa runs out, but the plane is delayed for a few days (sometimes happens on overseas flights or a recalled plane) and the visa runs out, the gub’mnt really doesn’t care about a few days error. For a few days after 9/11, quite a few visas ran out because planes were grounded (extreme case. Of course some leeway was given). Unless we were preventing all expired visas from travelling at all, I don’t see how screening out people coming into the country has any effect against terrorists. Even if a persons visa has expired, how do you expect them to leave without getting a new visa?

Richard Steven Hack February 1, 2006 12:40 PM

People need to realize that the state is defined by the following concept: You do everything we tell you to, and give us everything you have, and we’ll protect you from the bad people inside and outside our borders – and if there aren’t any bad people, we’ll make some.

It’s an extortion racket, nothing more.

So fifteen billion dollars of taxpayer money went to a bunch of contractors who paid bribes^H^H^H^H^H^Hcampaign donations to politicians.

Anybody here surprised by this? If so, you need to get out more.

Or read more.

Or something.

Candide February 1, 2006 1:42 PM

Of course, remember that the US-VISIT program is now a first-line defense — how many of those 1000 caught would have been caught by existant means if US-VISIT wasn’t in play?

Mike February 1, 2006 2:30 PM

How much of that $15 billion was the start up cost, compared to how much it costs to run per year? I think to have a valid comparison you should take that into account.

AnonymousLemming February 1, 2006 3:52 PM

My wife and I used to visit the USA at least once but normally more often each year. Because of Visit and other insane US policies and news stories coming out of there (photographers being harrassed, spying on US citizens without warrants, etc.) I’m planning on making our trip later this year our last.

Every time we visit, we spend between 10 and 14 nights, and around £2500.00 in hotels, car rental, food, various other sundries and entertainment. So that’s about £5k per year. Airfare is extra, but that doesn’t go to US companies, so let’s not count that.

When I visit on business, the company pays, so that comes in around £3000 per trip in various costs. There is normally one or more of those per year. I’ll not be doing those anymore.

I’m not the only person in this situation. A friend of mine used to spend 1 weekend in Boston every month or two. That’s 6 trips a year, and he used to fly either American Airways or United, so you can count his airfares too. He hasn’t been over in 1.5 years now.

That’s anecdotal evidence, but it’s a lot of lost tourism revenue. I’d say that’s about one full time job per year in the service industry you’ve lost by the way me and mine have been treated.

When I was growing up, I had one goal in life – move to America. I so badly wanted to move there it was sad. Now, I’m not even sure I want to visit anymore. That hurts 🙁

Theo Bee February 1, 2006 4:57 PM

There is another cost.

I refuse to be treated like a criminal and now refuse to visit there and hence do no busines with the USA anymore.

You lot went overboard a tad.

pseudonymous in nc February 1, 2006 6:33 PM

“I suppose you would all prefer the cheaper alternative where thousands die because the system was not in place?”


This is one of these issues where the people who experience the system and are best qualified to comment on it are precisely those with no political clout to change it: i.e. non-US citizens.

Do you think that most visitors to the US, who’ll be going to the cities and areas most likely to present terrorist targets, want a border control system that increases the risk? Of course not.

US-VISIT is arbitrary and excessive, the triumph of a nice little earner over the kind of screening — polite questioning — that will actually identify threats.

“The minute, on average, it takes to process visitors through immigration (not including wait time) is hardly a burden.”

Um, are you kidding? Or are you just an American saved the burden of entering the country under suspicion?

US-VISIT has been implemented shabbily. As I said upthread, it will cause all sorts of problems this coming summer as travellers heading to Orlando or New York or California find out that inadvertently walking past those funny ATMs on the way out got them flagged on the database.

Bonnie February 1, 2006 6:46 PM

I hate going to the US, because every time I fly in I feel like customs is doing me some great favor letting me into the country. I understand that (with good reason) you want to protect your country and make sure that bad people are kept out, but customs can also do this in a polite and uninsulting manner. I wouldn’t go so far as Theo to say that I would never go back there again, but as a tourist stepping off the plane it gives me a really bad impression of the US.

pseudonymous in nc February 1, 2006 10:30 PM

More here:,,1697214,00.html

The UK’s leading long-haul tour operator has blamed stringent security measures and confusion over visas for a dramatic downturn in the number of British travellers visiting America. Kuoni claims that its bookings for the USA were down 30 per cent last year from 2004.
Hurricane Katrina, which tore through Florida and devastated New Orleans, and negative feeling over America’s attack on Iraq have put travellers off, but Kuoni managing director Sue Biggs said the ‘chaos over visas’ was mainly to blame.

‘Last year was our toughest year ever for bookings to all destinations, but America shot itself in the foot. It’s going to take along time to build it back again.’

While stricter measures continue to be introduced, the department of Homeland Security was forced to admit its brusque approach may be damaging tourism after travellers complained staff acted in an unfriendly and occasionally aggressive manner. Methods to make visitors feel more welcome are being trialled at Washington Dulles and Houston George Bush airports, where staff are being trained as ‘friendly greeters’ and video welcome messages will be played.

It might take more than a ‘have a nice day’ video clip to entice travellers back. Philip Brook, an actor from London fell foul of security staff at Miami on a family holiday in 2004, when officials demanded he and his wife be searched separately for half an hour, while their twin four-year-old daughters went on ahead alone.

‘They couldn’t understand why we insisted on keeping them with us. I was furious. If I consider going back to Miami, I think “oh God, I’d rather not”.’

Geezer Guy February 2, 2006 1:50 AM

As an American living in Europe I’m always amazed how easy it is for Americans to visit Europe. No visas, no finger prints required. I think if the Europeans treated the Americans the same as the Americans treated the Europeans you would see some positive changes in the entry requirements into the U.S. Can you imagine Americans having to get a visa and fingeprints to visit each country in Europe?

Bob Smith February 2, 2006 5:54 AM

someone turns into a bad guy, his friend turns them, and they split the difference after jail time.

Would I do 2 years to split $1m? Maybe. But the rather extreme mandatory sentences required by federal anti-terrorism laws make this an unsafe bet. I’d more likely do 10-15 years for a relatively trival offense, in which case there’s no amount of money that would compensate me.

Jonathan Peterson February 2, 2006 10:59 AM

You may want to take a similar look at the cost effectiveness of the USA Patriot Act’s anti-money laundering, information sharing and know your customer sections. I would roughly estimate the cost to the banking industry at $1B for compliance. This has resulted in 2 convictions for drug related money laundering, and no terrorism arrests at all.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 8:16 AM

I really like this new system!! I’ve the (personnal) feeling the immigration officers are now much more relaxed and friendly…they simply have to rely on what their screen is saying and aren’t so inquisitive anymore!
I don’t have anything to hide and I don’t care giving away my fingerprints if that can make my entry easier/faster…
…don’t get me wrong, the whole process stays tedious but just like the other security checks, you get used to it !

Slim February 21, 2006 9:42 AM

I often arrive in the US with a long itinerary of one night stays in different hotels and cities. When I arrive, as well as having my photo and fingerprints taken, I am required to fill out a form that has a small area to enter where I am staying. Because I am usually being picked up by one of my staff I often have no idea where I will be staying so I just enter my UPS mailbox address. There appears to be no checking or quality control process. I have given completely bogus addresses on occasion just to relieve the boredom of standing in line. I have also observed other travellers be subjected to rigorous interrogations because they did not know the address of the Chicago Hilton. It is another example of a security measure that costs money and time but adds nothing.

Whilst barefoot, waiting in line to pass through yet another metal detector at an airport, I forgot to take my laptop out of its bag. As my bag passed through the X-ray machine and I passed through the metal detector a shout went up from the X-ray operator “Is that your bag with the laptop in it?” she demanded. “Yes” I replied “would you like me to take it out?” “No, it doesn’t matter, just don’t do it again” she shouted at me. Surely, if it doesn’t matter I don’t need to get it out? Also, whilst my shoes must be X-rayed, nobody ever wants to look under my hat. The shoe-bomber’s explosives were not metallic so could be hidden anywhere that wasn’t X-rayed. More movie plot response.

Stephen March 1, 2006 10:18 PM

The $15B price tag is incorrect. The total annual cost of the US-VISIT program is in the low 000s of millions, and the cost of the fingerprint identification system is a fraction of the cost.

Between 10-30 wanted persons are captured per day using fingerprints. The “over 1000” total captures to date are not mere overstays, but persons with active wants or warrants, are known or suspected terrorists, are sex offenders, repeated immigration violators (more than 10 entries without investigation), or have been denied visas based upon criminal history. These people should not be in country, and thank god they’re not in country.

US-VISIT and its biometric system IDENT has been instrumental in capturing and arresting some of the most serious offendors. In addition to several key international criminals, the system was the key link to capture Lee Malvo, the Washington DC sniper, who had a prior record of illegal immigration. Information within IDENT helped link Malvo’s phone call, to John Mohammed and then to their arrest. The total time between discovery in IDENT to arrest was a matter of hours.

It seems disingenuous to me to exaggerate the cost while minimizing the benefit of this program.

Bruce Schneier March 2, 2006 7:39 AM

“The $15B price tag is incorrect.”

You’re probably right. I found that number in several news reports some time ago, as the cost of the “next phase” of US-VISIT. I have been asked about it a few times, and have not been able to find the original citation.

I will go back to using a more defensible number.

Bulldog June 28, 2006 9:26 AM

I have traveled all over the world but mostly in Europe. Immigration Services are pretty much the same everywhere. I have noticed that it is faster and easier now, both coming and going. Some of that is due to these automated systems. Many places but in particular the US and Europe have no visa required for less than 6-month stays. I concur US customs processing is much more difficult than anywhere in Europe. But, that is just the way it is. With respect to the horror stories, they happen everywhere. But seldom… Finally, take a look at your passport some time. It is an official government document that askes the the government that accepts it allow you to pass without delay or hinderance and to provide all lawful assistance and protection… even though you are a citizen of another country and may otherwise have no rights. It is tied up in a long history of international law. My main comment is just this… the problem is not even stated in a few lines in a blog and the solution could fill a very large book. Immigration and border control is something a “state” does. Why and how is really up to them and the law they implement…. when you go to visit you follow the local law… doesn’t matter where you are from or where you are going.

Annie July 15, 2006 3:33 PM

Well–I wondering whether my friends and I will bother going to the U.S. next year as we’ve been thinking about! The reason–We’ve got a ‘criminal’ planning to travel with us! . She commited the henious offence of stealing a bar of chocolate from a shop and was arrested, fingerprinted and verbally cautioned for it. She was twelve at the time and this was ten years ago! The slates wiped clean here but everything we read suggests that she is going to need a visa as she has been arrested. A day off work, the cost of the visa and all the hassle involved (not everybody lives within easy distance of an American Consulate). And after hearing the stories of how you could be treated at U.S. customs we’re now wondering if its worth it and are considering taking our money elsewhere.

deepee December 14, 2006 7:23 AM

I’m a brit who has just returned from my first visit to the US in over a decade. I hated the way that immigration used to bark at you on the way in, but this time round I was appalled at being fingerprinted like a criminal.
Having done the minimum of admin to comply with US visit regulations, I must have unwittingly signed up in the small print to having fingerprints taken. Had I been aware of this I would probably not have gone to the US.
We have a long tradition of innocence until guilt is proven. I have never been fingerprinted in my life until entering the US.
Rather than just post on this site, I intend to complain. Please advise the most efficient route of complaining to the DHS. I will be doing the same to the UK foreign office.
I have no illusions that policy will be changed, but I wish to allow my views to be known. Thanks in advance for your assistance…….

theo June 8, 2007 5:45 PM

Mr. Schneier should stick to cryptography. The $15 B figure is totally bogus. First off, the 1000 people caught were caught by technology installed in the previous “phase”, not the “next phase”. The “cost per catch” has nothing to do with money not yet spent. Second, the US-VISIT budget consists of more initiatives than installing fingerscan readers at ports of entry. Third, for the 3-4 years it has been in existence the US-VISIT budget has been around 500 mil per year. Not chicken feed, I’ll admit, and I’m all for an objective analysis of cost vs. benefit, but such an analysis needs to start with facts.

Mr. Schneier rails against those who would sell security snake oil by dressing up their pitches with a patina of jargon. Allow me to suggest that he apply the same level of rigor to his own arguments.

denis June 20, 2007 8:27 AM

I don’t mind the fingerprints and photo if they reduce the number on inane questions asked.

The I94 entry permit is for up to six months, so why does the Immigration Officer always get uptight when I say my stay is going to be four months?

Dick Bridge July 28, 2007 2:20 AM

I decided once the finger printing came in that I would not return to the US ever again. However, I changed my mind and have been regularly since. I decided that I would tell ‘the locals’ what is being done in their name. And everyone is always appalled!

What I have found is that while attempting to be nice each official still manages to convey a hostile attitude. Why are they armed? There have been rare exceptions; congratulations to the efficiency of O’Hare. But, dear me what is wrong at Atlanta; there the officials seem not to understand what is needed at all. Passports are scanned and then the information is carefully retyped and so each person takes at least 5 minutes to be processed!

What does it achieve?

Security – I doubt it.
Safety – I also doubt. This is the claimed reason but how it assures MY safety I have yet to realise!
Employment – Yes, but with only 1,000 criminals found and no terrorists quite an expensive make-work scheme; but they do get a gun and a super uniform.

A thought for US Immigration. Why do I need the form? I will have already supplied ALL the information via my airline prior to taking off. So all that is needed is for you, ie Immigration, to print me out a return receipt at the desk! We know these ‘fly lists’ are checked because of the rare stopping of flights mid-Atlantic.

Fingers September 12, 2007 2:36 AM

I live in Asia but I am fortunate enough to be able to use the I94-W form. I live in a country where carrying an ID card is the Law. To get this ID card, you get fingerprinted.
I don’t have any objection to being fingerprinted at all. I choose to enter the US, they can choose to do what they like to grant me access. So far, I’ve flown several times to SFO, LAX, JFK and you know what, the immigration people were always friendly and they have a sense of humor too.
The only strange thing I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world is that they are armed, but I guess, this way they won’t need to chase you.

jack Li December 5, 2007 1:49 AM

 In the “nature??? magazine (Vol 449| 6 September 2007), Anil K. Jain wrote a paper about “Biometric recognition???. The paper refered to US-VIST, and it said two fingerprints are matched against a watch-list of 2.5 million records in 10—15 seconds. My major is fingerprint verification, and in such a big database (over millions) ,our algorithm can’t go that fast in personal computer. (our algorithm is 300 matches/ sec)
 So I just wonder what devices or computers are used by US-VISIT ? are there use concurrent computation technology?

PTL January 13, 2008 12:27 PM

The US visit rules have a genuine deterrent function. they deter people like myself from visiting the US – not because I have a beard and carry explosives in my luggage but because I have no intention of being fingerprinted by anyone just for the priviledge of visiting the land of the free . . .

John Boom February 28, 2008 4:03 PM

Well, if we had us visit we might of stopped 9/11, im sure that is worth 15bil. Cryptic? just as much as saying each bad guy costs 15mil

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