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Biometric database deal for offshore consortium

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An Accenture-led consortium yesterday emerged as winners of a US border security contract worth up to $10bn over the next 10 years.

The Accenture-led Smart Border Alliance was selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a system designed to track foreign visitors to the US using biometric information obtained at entry points tied together with a huge system of interlinked databases.

The US Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program 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 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 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. Despite this the Republican-controlled Congress has mandated that US-VISIT must be deployed at the top 50 US land ports of entry by 31 December 2004.

Rather than concerning themselves about whether the scheme will succeed in its stated objectives, US press coverage thus far has focused on gripes from some politicians about awarding such a huge government contract to a company based outside the US. Accenture is based in Bermuda.

Raytheon, The Titan Corporation, and SRA International - other companies in the Accenture-led Smart Border Alliance - also stand to rake in lucrative work under the US-VISIT program contract, which includes five base years plus five option years.

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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