A Flap About Fingerprints


War is looming, and America stands at the highest alert. Seeking to batten down the country's domestic defenses, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) begins fingerprinting visitors and recording their race, weight and hair color. Those already living in the U.S. are ordered to report to the nearest post office to be printed and interviewed. The month is July--of 1940.

Sixty-two years later, Attorney General John Ashcroft has just unveiled a similar proposal tailored to this equally jittery but higher-tech moment. Set to take effect in the fall, the new program will fingerprint and photograph some 100,000 visitors from as many...

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