STEMatState: Step Behind Our Consular Window

Posted by Andres Rodriguez
April 23, 2014
People Wait Outside the US Passport Office

What really goes on behind the consular window?  Every day, consular officers evaluate 60,000 to100,000 visa applicants worldwide, utilizing multiple methods including various types of technology.  In Fiscal Year 2013, more than 13.5 million passports were issued to U.S. citizens.  How?  Meet Angela Miller.  She is one of many State Department officials responsible for maintaining the technology that supports the work of hundreds of consular employees and passport adjudicators here in the United States and around the world.  Ms. Miller is a branch chief in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ (CA) Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST).  She leads CST’s Standards & New Technologies Branch, overseeing the innovative technology we use to protect the security and integrity of key travel documents like the U.S. visa and the U.S. passport. 

You will find Ms. Miller at the USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center April 25-27.  Over 350,000 K-12 grade students are expected to visit the festival, where the Department of State will host several exhibits in the National Security Pavilion to highlight Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM’s) impact on U.S. diplomacy in the 21st century.  CA’s display will have two interactive visa “windows”—modeled after those found in U.S. consular sections around the world—to share how consular officers use sophisticated biometric tools, such as facial recognition and fingerprint capture, to identify fraudulent visa applications.

The exhibit will feature an interactive game developed by CST to show how facial recognition biometric technology uses algorithms to evaluate whether two facial images might be of the same person.  These algorithms give consular officers around the world the ability to compare each visa applicant to more than 125 million other images in a database.  If another match is found—a sign which may indicate use of a false identity—the applicant is identified for further investigation.  The facial recognition game will challenge students to accurately try to match an applicant to photographs of several individuals who look very similar.

The exhibit will also demonstrate fingerprint biometric technology, which works like facial recognition, but uses algorithms to analyze a fingerprint instead of a face to confirm a person’s identity to uncover potential fraud.  By using biometric technology, more data is reviewed in the application process and multidimensional data results strengthen our border security and help stop terrorists and criminals from entering the United States.        

Ms. Miller will spend the Festival weekend sharing her love of STEM with thousands of students who will “step behind the window” to experience how consular officers and adjudicators utilize STEM to protect our borders and safeguard our communities. 

About the Author: Andres Rodriguez servers as an Operations Officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Office of Passport Services.



Rajkumar B.
April 30, 2014
Very useful information.


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