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Thu, Jul 03, 2008

Airlines, Lawmakers Unite In Opposition To Fingerprinting Plan

Carriers Say They Can't Afford To Pay For Gov't-Mandated Program

Airlines have called upon their friends in Congress to block a White House plan calling for carriers to fingerprint foreign visitors before they travel back home.

That plan, backed by the Bush administration, calls for all international carriers to tackle the financial and logistical burden of computerized fingerprinting for 33 million visitors each year... something the airlines say will cost $12 billion annually through 2018.

USA Today reports airlines aren't opposed to the plan, per se... they just don't want to pay for it, especially as they grapple with high fuel prices. "US airlines obviously cannot bear the staggering additional costs," the Air Transport Association, lobbying group for the major domestic carriers, wrote last week.

A House vote later this month is expected to bar the Department of Homeland Security from requiring carriers to start fingerprinting, until DHS tests a system for doing so with the airlines. That measure was approved last week by the House Appropriations Committee, as part of the larger DHS funding bill for FY2009.

Foreign visitors are already fingerprinted by DHS when they arrive in the US, though that current paper-based system is known to be error-prone, and difficult to manage.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) says it's the responsibility of government, not private carriers, to handle fingerprinting of international visitors. He also wonders whether such a law is legal in the first place -- saying measures to insure US border security "have always been federal responsibilities."

"A lot of us are concerned that they are now trying to pass off responsibility," Thompson said.

US carriers certainly aren't alone in opposing the DHS plan. The governments of Germany and the United Kingdom are also against the measure, as are organizations tasked with promoting US tourism, like the US Chamber of Commerce.

"This global opposition will hopefully provide a wake-up call to the department," said Steve Lott of the International Air Transport Association.

Stewart Baker, policy chief at DHS, says he's "open to being persuaded there is some other more effective and efficient way" to take the fingerprints.

FMI: www.dhs.gov, www.airlines.org

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