By Runa A. Sandvik
I have my photograph taken and my fingerprints scanned every time I enter the United States. So do all other foreign nationals. The information is collected under the US-VISIT program. Information such as name, date of birth, gender and travel document data is recorded as well. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request I filed in November 2014, the Department of Homeland Security released a document containing information collected about me under this program over the last four years.
In addition to photographs, the 21-page document contains entries for every encounter I have had with the agency in that period. Most of these encounters were recorded at airports around the country, but there are also entries for appointments related to immigration and enrollment into the Global Entry program. Along with the Global Entry program, the DHS recently launched a new program that may allow it to collect similar information about U.S. citizens.
While Global Entry provides pre-approved travelers with expedited clearance upon arrival into the country, Automated Passport Control is a new program that expedites the entry process for all U.S. citizens using self-service kiosks. The kiosks are similar to the ones used for Global Entry, and requires travelers to scan their passport, take a photograph and verify flight information. These kiosks are currently operational at more than 30 airports.
The information that is collected by these programs is shared with federal, state and local agencies. It is unclear how long the information is retained for.
The document I received from the DHS contains a total of 34 entries. No information has been redacted. Each entry includes my personal Fingerscan Identification Number, a unique Encounter ID, my name, date of birth, gender, nationality, my travel document type and number, and information about when, where and for what reason my fingerprints were scanned. A few entries also contain my height, weight, eye color and hair color. 33 of the 34 entries include a photograph.
To request this information yourself, visit FOIAonline and make a request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. While I initially made a request listing every trip to the States, including flight information, the request that resulted in responsive documents was this one:
I am seeking a copy of the photograph that was taken of me as part of the US-VISIT biometric procedure when I arrived in Washington, D.C. on May 13 2013 (Virgin Atlantic #21 from London Heathrow to Washington, D.C., Dulles Intl).
You may be able to simply state that you would like a copy of the information that has been collected about you under one of the three programs; US-VISIT, Global Entry, Automated Passport Control. You may also want to add that responsive records may be held by the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM).
If you have successfully requested similar information, or if you are having trouble with your request, please get in touch and share your story.