Feds to require visitors’ fingerprints when they leave US

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The Bush administration would require commercial airlines and cruise-line operators to collect information such as fingerprints from international travelers and send the information to the Homeland Security Department soon after the travelers leave the country, according to a proposed rule.

The proposal, which will be announced Tuesday, will close a security gap identified after the 9/11 attacks and identify which visitors have overstayed their visas.

Airlines and cruise ship operators must already provide the department with biographical information on international passengers before they leave the country. But this rule would require biometric information — such as fingerprints — to be collected and then transmitted within 24 hours of a visitor leaving the U.S., according to a Homeland Security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.

Over 10 years, officials estimate it will cost air and sea carriers about $2.7 billion to carry out the requirement. The department plans to enforce the rule by June 30, 2009. Some air carriers have complained the federal government should cover the cost of implementing this rule.

U.S. officials already collect fingerprints from visitors when they come into the country, but the administration has yet to complete the exit portion of the tracking program — known as US-VISIT.

Lawmakers, including Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., have pressed the department to roll out its biometric exit system for more than a year.

“Any uncertainty about who is entering and leaving our country is an unacceptable risk that must be addressed,” Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement Monday.

There will be a 60-day comment period for the proposed rule. Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.