NAILS (National Automated Immigration Lookout System)

NAILS (National Automated Immigration Lookout System)

NAILS (National Automated Immigration Lookout System) is a centralized database and computing system used by entry inspectors to identify aliens not eligible for admission. NAILS (and the updated version, NAILS II) allows inspectors to quickly retrieve and review biographical or historical case data and was designed to facilitate evaluation of entrant status.

The primary source of data for the NAILS database is gleaned directly from data supplied by potential immigrants on entry and immigration documents. This base of data provides a framework for the addition of information obtained from other federal, state, and foreign agencies.

Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the NAILS system drew criticism because it is essentially a name-based system that can be thwarted by the use of a false name or falsified supporting documents. By relying on names rather than biometrics, NAILS provided gaps through which determined terrorists could slip into the United States.

NAILS is a secure database with access restricted on a "need to know" basis that was, prior to March 2003, operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). On March 1, the newly created United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) absorbed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). All INS border patrol agents and investigators—along with agents from the U.S. Customs Service and Transportation Security Administration—were placed under the direction of the DHS Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS). Responsibility for U.S. border security and the enforcement of immigration laws was transferred to BTS.

BTS is scheduled to incorporate the United States Customs Service (previously part of the Department of Treasury), and the enforcement division of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (previously part of the Department of Justice). Former INS immigration service functions are scheduled to be placed under the direction of the DHS Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under the reorganization the INS formally ceases to exist on the date the last of its functions are transferred.

Although the description of the technologies involved in the NAILS entry security program remain the same as when operated by the INS, in an effort to facilitate border security, BTS envisions higher levels of coordination between formerly separate agencies and databases. As of April 2003, the specific coordination and future of the NAILS program was uncertain with regard to name changes, program administration, and policy changes.

Although the NAILS system is limited as an isolated system, even prior to DHS integration, data contained in the NAILS system, along with data from the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS), and the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS II), was available to inspectors through the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) maintained by U.S. Customs Service.

One reason for separate database systems is that it allows easier compartmentalization of data, keeping classified information secure while allowing access to data that may be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).



Department of Homeland Security. April 2, 2003. < > (April 11, 2003).

Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Law Enforcement: The National Border Patrol Strategy. < > (April 12, 2003).


APIS (Advance Passenger Information System)
IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System)
IDENT (Automated Biometric Identification System)
INSPASS (Immigration and Naturalization Service Passenger Accelerated Service System)
PORTPASS (Port Passenger Accelerated Service System)
SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection)

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