DHS to develop single, searchable database of immigration records

System will help identify cases of fraud and assist with intelligence and law enforcement investigations.

The Homeland Security Department plans to establish a database of immigration data that will identify fraud in applications for benefits, and provide information to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

DHS will create a mirror copy of multiple databases the Citizenship and Immigration Services uses to award federal benefits to immigrants and nonimmigrants and develop a single user interface employees use to access the stored information, according to a notice the department published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

The Citizenship and Immigration Data Repository System of Records, which will include real-time updates and a search engine, will allow officials to vet applications for fraud and national security concerns, detect misuse of immigration information by agency employees for personal gain, and respond to classified requests for information that could assist intelligence and law enforcement investigations. CIDR will sit on the department's classified network.

When CIS responds to requests for information from intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the searches are classified, even if the data sets maintained in the databases are not. DHS determined that creating mirror copies of its unclassified data sets on the classified network would be the best solution, enabling employees to conduct classified searches and maintain audit trails of search activities and results, according to the notice.

"A mirrored system is necessary, because if you have a classified search criteria [that] is used to search on the unclassified network, you have just [committed] a security violation," said DHS spokesman Steve Richards.

Homeland Security also filed a proposed rule-making notice on Wednesday to exempt portions of the system of records from one or more provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act, which prohibits the disclosure of an individual's personally identifiable information without his or her written consent. The law exempts the disclosure of this information for law enforcement purposes.

"We are taking the exemption because we don't want to tell someone the information has been shared with a [law enforcement or intelligence] agency" if an investigation is under way, Richards said. "The fact that the other agency asked for the information would be enough for the individual to know that he may be under investigation, and thus would jeopardize the investigation."

The upgrades for CIDR will be operational by Oct. 8.