Anser Aims to Bolster Agency Business

Anser Aims to Bolster Agency Business

By Andrea Novotny
Staff Writer

Anser Inc. executives want to parlay work for the Department of Justice on a computerized system to locate missing children into contracts with other law enforcement agencies.

Anser, a not-for-profit public service research institute in Arlington, Va., expects to generate up to $5 million this year in contracts with the Department of Justice as well as state and local police forces from versions of its computerized system for investigating cases of missing or exploited persons, said Helena Wisniewski, vice president of information technology.

"We're looking at expanding to other branches of the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies," including those in state and local government, Wisniewski said.

Anser provides a variety of services to the government, including information technology systems and program management. Some of its major clients include NASA and the Air Force, Wisniewski said.

Anser won an 18-month, $3.5 million contract last September from the National Institute of Justice to develop a system that helps case managers search the Internet for information about missing or exploited children and find possible facial matches of them.

The institute, part of the Justice Department, is authorized to support research and demonstration programs and disseminate information worldwide.

Plans call for the system to be operational by year's end, Wisniewski said. The system, which will be used by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is expected to accelerate case managers' online searches for photographic information on missing and exploited children, particularly at child pornography sites.

The system will combine facial recognition technology with intelligent software agents to find and match photographic information of children. Intelligent software agents are search tools that surf the Internet, sift through the information and prioritize it.

Intelligent software agents also remember patterns of usage and anticipate the user's needs. For example, a user can instruct an agent to find all summer camps with horseback riding, but it may only find one the first time. A few weeks later it might find another while looking for other information. The agent would then contact the user to see if the horseback riding information was still wanted.

The facial recognition technology will compare digital images found on the Internet to digital images from photographic databases kept by law enforcement and non-profit groups to see if there is a match. Anser also expects the facial identification feature to be able to age-enhance images, Wisniewski said.

"Intelligent software agents are really at the forefront of development," she said. "[The technology is] being driven by the Internet market, which is growing at 200 to 400 percent a year."

Next year, Anser expects revenues from versions of its system to hit about $10 million, Wisniewski said. Its total revenues were $57.8 million for fiscal 1997 ending in October, up from $50.2 million the previous year.

Last year, Anser landed $18.5 million in new information technology contracts, mostly with the National Institute of Justice, the Air Force and the intelligence community, Wisniewski said.

As prime contractor, Anser will integrate the system and develop the intelligent software agents, officials said. Subcontractors Marada Corp., TMC Technologies Inc. and Tygart Technology Inc., all of Fairmont, W.Va., and Lafayette Group Inc., Vienna, Va., and will help develop the software agents and work on the system's advanced facial recognition technology.

In February, Anser selected Visionics Corp., Jersey City, N.J.; Eyematic Interfaces Inc., Santa Monica, Calif.; and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, as a team of subcontractors to provide and advance the facial recognition technology, Wisniewski said.

The Justice Department, which is processing grant requests from state and local law agencies, will give out roughly $400 million per year to purchase new information technology, according to information from its Office of Justice Programs.

The federal government also is spending $45 million to promote state and local links to the FBI's National Criminal Intelligence Computer program, which allows police to share information about suspects.

All states fund clearinghouses for information on missing persons. They all also have at least one non-profit organization to assist law enforcement in finding missing children. Those organizations will likely use Anser's product, said Kimberly Cook, executive director of the New-U Foundation for Missing and Exploited Children Inc., a non-profit organization in Fairmont, W.Va.

In 1996, state and local governments bought information technology services worth $4.8 billion for public safety, including law enforcement and health care, according to G2 Research Inc., Mountain View, Calif. Of that amount, law enforcement spending accounted for roughly $2.6 billion.

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