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Foreigners to be monitored by IT leviathan

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The US is planning to build the most sophisticated computer-tracking system ever devised in order to keep tabs on foreigners entering the country. The project will also allow authorities to confirm that visitors deemed suspicious adhere to stated travel plans and leave the States before their visa expires.

The US project is designed to address the security shortcomings that allowed the 11 September terrorists to move freely around the country despite the fact some were already under suspicion.

"The idea is to merge 20 US computer databases and add biometric data, criminal histories and financial records, so border police at the 300 points of entry can access to the fullest possible information," The Independent reports.

The scheme, championed by the counter-terrorist Department of Homeland Security, has received a frosty reception on Capitol Hill. The General Accounting Office has castigated the project as "very risky" and warned of significant management and oversight problems. Regardless of criticism that broader surveillance won't prevent terrorism - real intelligence is more important - the US government still retains an almost touching faith in the ability of technology to solve any problem.

The Bush administration is reportedly close to awarding a contract to develop the system - worth more than $10bn over the next 10 years - to one of three final contestants, Computer Sciences Corporation, Lockheed Martin and Accenture.

"This is hugely important for the security of our country," the Bush administration's border security chief, Asa Hutchinson, told The New York Times. "We're talking here about a comprehensive approach to border security."

Since January, visitors to the US from many countries have been fingerprinted or photographed. Under the US Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to the United States must issue passports with biometric identifiers no later than 26 October 2004. ®

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