- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Much has been made recently of some high-profile incidents, or at least accidents, on the part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). With calls for restructuring coming from virtually every corner of Capitol Hill, I was somewhat encouraged by the recent vote in the House to restructure the INS. However, it seems that in all the debate and controversy over INS policies and procedures, we may be missing a bigger, more fundamental point, one that poses a most serious threat to our national security, as well as global commerce.
The INS and other U.S. governmental agencies do not have access to the tools or information they need to qualify individuals attempting to enter the United States or to enforce regulations on foreign nationals already within the United States. The information on the backgrounds of immigrants or visitors to the United States 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 are doing so for good and worthwhile reasons like education, business, employment or family connections. But, as we now know all too well, there is a tiny but extremely destructive minority who has and likely will continue to infiltrate the country for the worst imaginable purposes. These few have become masters of false identities and fraudulent identification documents. Without a system in place to identify them and thwart their efforts, we risk another catastrophe. Moreover, any attempt to assist the INS in reform will fail if this key loophole is not closed.
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 environment and, more recently, for certain governmental purposes, particularly following September 11.
However, currently existing identity-authentication processes have not yet been used to authenticate non-U.S. residents, simply because identifying information pertaining to these individuals is not currently available. Nevertheless, nodes of this information are available. We believe that they exist in sufficient quantities that, if retrieved, mathematical models can successfully transform the information into identification scores, similar to that which exist with regard to identifying U.S. citizens.
But an effort to collect and aggregate that data would not be an easy or inexpensive project. This data is often in paper form only, and it needs to be converted into an electronic format. Congress needs to make authentication of non-U.S. citizens entering the United States a top priority within the broader homeland security discussion and also a priority for promoting global commerce. It is arguably the largest 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. It is imperative that we grow trust in the identity authentication process to avoid the adverse consequences of a fallen economy or incidents of terrorism.

Norman A. Willox Jr. is chief officer for privacy, industry and regulatory affairs of LexisNexis, and chairman of the National Fraud Center.

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