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U.S. Visitor Surveillance System
U.S. Visitor Surveillance System

US Visitor Surveillance System used for Emotional Healing

Ostensibly, the motivation behind storing the fingerprints of almost all foreign visitors to the US is in order to catch terrorists. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database was recently used for a different purpose. Namely, for the emotionally healing purpose of bringing closure to families who have lost their loved ones.

U.S. authorities have decided to scan the DHS system’s records against residual or “latent” prints that were left behind at the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site. As a result, the DHS was able to help identify “a few” victims of the July 2014 disaster in the Ukraine. This, according to department officials.

The mission to identify all 298 MH17 passengers and crew is being led by the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team. Of the victims of this accident, some 193 were Dutch citizens.

“Our fingerprint examiners were actually able to go through and search our database, and found possible latent print matches,” said Ken Fritzsche, director of the Identity Technology Division at the DHS Office of Biometric Identity Management. The positive matches were relayed to the FBI, which has been aiding the recovery effort. The FBI, in turn, passed the victims’ names on to the Dutch investigators.

“It essentially eliminated the need for family members to have to travel to the Netherlands and identify remains,” Fritzcshe said. He spoke on Tuesday, the 24th, at the ‘2015 Biometrics for Government and Law Enforcement’ conference.

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According to NextGov, last week FBI officials confirmed DHS’ account and said U.S. biometric databases helped give names to deceased individuals from multiple countries.

Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI division that runs the bureau’s Facial, Fingerprint and Iris databases – collectively called the Next Generation Identification system (NGI) – said: “the FBI requested the recovered fingerprints be compared against multiple databases such as the FBI’s NGI database, the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric database and other foreign fingerprint databases.” He added that the “searches resulted in numerous individuals of multiple nationalities being identified through fingerprint analysis.”

Neither FBI nor DHS officials would provide specific statistics. Fritzcshe’s office, formerly the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology Program, was established in March 2013, to help America detain foreigners who pose a risk to the United States.

According to a recent report by The Australian, an international team will revisit the crash site one last time next week, in the hopes of spotting the remains of three passengers still missing. The unaccounted-for victims are all Dutch citizens. The 295 other air flight passengers included U.S., British, Australian, German, and Malaysian nationals, among others.

Flight MH17 was allegedly hit by a ground-to-air missile operated by pro-Russian separatists. The plane went down in a region contested by Ukrainian and pro-Russian militants. The flight had been originally planned for December 2014, but was postponed because of the ongoing conflict and due to bad weather.