Newark Airport Tests Program to Photograph, Fingerprint Departing Travelers

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- International travelers already are required to be fingerprinted and photographed when they arrive at U.S. airports. Soon, they will be asked to do the same when they leave the country.

Homeland Security officials Wednesday announced a pilot program at Newark Liberty International Airport that will eventually require travelers leaving the country to be fingerprinted and photographed using kiosks set up in the airport concourse.

The exit program is part of US-VISIT, or U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, and is already being tested at airports in Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Dallas and Miami. It is scheduled to be implemented at airports in Detroit, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico, later this month.

The process is comparable to the one used since the beginning of 2004 for incoming travelers at U.S. airports, in which their passports are scanned and they are fingerprinted and photographed. The results are then compared with terrorist watch lists and a national crime database. The entire process takes less than a minute.

The purpose of the exit program is to close the circle.

"Now we're able to verify on the way out if these are the same people who came in," said Patrice Ward, a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department. "If they're not the same people who came in, is there a watch list against them and do we want to stop them from boarding the plane?"

One key distinction between the two programs, however, is that departing travelers at Newark are not expressly required to stop at the kiosks while the program is being tested, officials said. The nine kiosks at Newark, called exit stations, are located near ramps leading to terminal gates, but travelers could have passed by Wednesday without stopping at them.

Alan Epstein, 60, an Israeli businessman departing from Newark, stopped to use the kiosk and was immediately surrounded by cameras and microphones as he inserted his passport into the machine and pressed the index fingers of both hands on a red pad that scanned his fingerprints. Epstein said the system was easy to use because it was similar to the one he had used when entering the country, but added a suggestion.

"There should be a barrier you have to pass through to get to the next section so that you have to go through here," he said. "That would be the way to do it."

Homeland Security officials deflected questions by stressing that the program is a first step and that travelers will eventually be required to pass through the checkpoints. Newark is also scheduled to test handheld devices that would be used at the gate to check the same information.

"We're trying to get compliance. Because it is a pilot program, we're looking at the best way to do this," Ward said. "Is it a kiosk? Is it a mobile device that you stand right at the gate and use? Is it a combination?"

Homeland Security officials hope to make a decision on which system or systems to install permanently at the airport by the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006, officials said.