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Industry grows, but agencies rely primarily on fingerprinting solutions in the war on terrorism

When U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan capture suspected al Qaeda terrorists, they are required to take the detainees' fingerprints, photos, names and other personal information.

But since early this year, ink and paper have not been used for fingerprinting. Instead, representatives of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services division in Afghanistan are carrying around laptop computers and portable fingerprint capture systems. The agents transfer the data, via both telephone lines and satellite, to FBI offices in the United States, where it is stored in its own database and also screened against the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the massive FBI database.

This screening helps determine the detainees' true identities and whether they have been associated with other known terrorists or involved in other criminal activities.

"In the broadest sense, this technology is really being used to enhance not only the FBI's identification efforts to identify and populate the database of potential terrorists, but [also] their investigative capabilities," said Robert Bucknam, senior vice president for government and international affairs at Cross Match Technologies Inc., the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., company that provided the fingerprint biometrics technology to the FBI.

The role played by the FBI's fingerprint identification system in the war on terrorism highlights the growing prominence of biometric technologies since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Biometrics, which is the process of using an individual's physical or behavioral traits as a form of identification, comes in many forms.

Fingerprint recognition is the best known and most widely used of the biometrics technologies now available. Another is hand geometry, which analyzes the length, width and thickness of fingers and palm. Iris and retinal scans, facial recognition, voice recognition, thermal imaging and signature recognition round out the list of most common biometrics.

Except for fingerprinting, most biometric technologies had not been widely used before Sept. 11, and many experts derided biometrics as expensive and unreliable. But homeland security efforts at all levels of government have given the biometrics industry a shot in the arm.

Many people are familiar with the FBI's fingerprint system, a long-standing program. Fewer know that in May, the Office of the Legislative Counsel in the House of Representatives moved to implement iris scanning as a security measure on its computers.

Congress has mandated that biometrics be considered in many government applications. For instance, the USA Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, required the attorney general and secretaries of State and Transportation to conduct a feasibility study for using a fingerprint scanning system at consular offices abroad and at border entry points. The goal is to identify individuals who might be wanted in connection with a criminal investigation before they get visas or enter or exit the country.

"The government sector is projected to become the largest vertical application over the next couple of years, even expected to surpass law enforcement, which is currently the largest," said Jackie Lucas, director of marketing with International Biometric Group LLC, New York. IBG is a biometric integration and consulting firm that works in both the government and commercial sectors.

Lucas' organization estimates that government spending on biometric technologies will grow from $217 million in 2002 to $512 million in 2005.

While the dollar amount may appear small, it is not unusual for biometrics to comprise 5 percent to 10 percent of the value of a contract, said R. J. Langley, a TRW Inc. Technical Fellow specializing in biometrics research and development. The rest of the money goes into the back-end systems, such as database management, distribution and analysis.

Although many manufacturers of iris scan, facial recognition and other biometrics initially touted these technologies as standalone security solutions, most experts agree that the role played by biometrics will be as pieces of an overall solution.

"They tend to be part of the bigger scheme of things," said Mike Brooks, director of the General Services Administration's Center for Smart Card Solutions. As an example, Brooks pointed to a Treasury Department smart-card project in which biometrics was a subcomponent.

But proponents said biometric solutions, even as role players, can significantly enhance security.

"The government ... has come to realize that biometrics is a valuable technique to protect physical places and information. That understanding had grown before Sept. 11 and the anthrax [attacks]," said Walter Hamilton, vice president of business development with SAFLink Corp., a Bellevue, Wash., company that provided the iris scan technology to the House Office of the Legislative Counsel.

NEW FEDERAL PROJECTS

Although companies and federal agencies are exploring a variety of biometric solutions, most current projects involve fingerprinting. That's because the FBI has used fingerprints as a form of identification for decades, and both the agency and law enforcement offices across the country have invested in fingerprint technology, said Tim Corcoran, a senior systems analyst for biometrics and identification systems with Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles.

In addition, the public is familiar with fingerprints as a form of unique identifier, he said, and many people have already submitted fingerprints for one reason or another, from military service to security requirements for their jobs.

Perhaps the best known federal effort involving biometrics is the Defense Department's smart-card project, administered through a General Services Administration contract worth up to $1.5 billion over 10 years.

From October 2000, when multiple contracts were awarded, to the end of August, more than 1 million Common Access Cards have been issued. In June, Lt. Gen. Pete Cuviello, chief information officer for the Army, said the Pentagon plans to include a biometric identifier on all the cards.

A new, major federal effort requiring a biometric solution is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential system. The TWIC will be a smart card incorporating some form of biometric identifier, issued to Transportation Security Administration employees and to those who work in the aviation industry, according to Mark Emery, acting deputy CIO of TSA. The card will later be rolled out to workers in the maritime, rail and trucking industries.

"There are millions and millions of people who would make use of this card," Emery said.

TSA had $35 million in funding for fiscal 2002 to conduct research and development for TWIC. Emery said the agency is requesting continued R&D funding and money for a pilot program in the 2003 budget, with major funding to begin full-scale implementation in fiscal 2004.

TSA officials have not decided whether to treat this as a standalone program or if Unisys Corp., which just received the agency's $1 billion infrastructure startup contract, will administer it, he said.

The Justice Department has three prospective biometrics-related projects under evaluation. In one, the Immigration and Naturalization Service would run the Overseas Refugee Fingerprinting Program, establishing fingerprinting facilities at U.S. embassies and refugee camps abroad to identify and track individuals seeking refugee status in the United States.

The second program, also for the INS, would link the agency's existing automated biometric identification system, called IDENT, with the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, to create a single fingerprint identification system.

One of the biggest programs still to be unveiled is the U.S. Entry-Exit System, intended to systematically track the arrival and departure of foreigners. In particular, the system is intended to allow the government to establish the identity of those who intend to visit the United States, verify the identity of those who enter the country, flag their status if they overstay the terms of their entry documents, and alert the government if they are or become identified as national security threats.

The agencies are still preparing the request for proposals for these programs, whose projected costs are uncertain.

With the government market for biometrics expected to heat up, some integrators are investing in their own biometric solutions.

Science Applications International Corp., for instance, has created a dedicated biometrics laboratory for assessing technologies and how they integrate into larger systems. The San Diego company is using facial recognition as an entrance requirement to the lab's offices. If a face doesn't match any records on file, the person cannot enter. There also are workstations using iris or retinal scanners to log in.

SAIC is working on a contract for the New York Police Department involving fingerprint biometrics, in which commanding officers in the field can use a handheld computer to verify police officers' fingerprints and use the information for time and attendance records and other human resources applications.

"Sept. 11 just advanced the schedule. Everybody was kind of going this way before the attack," said Mark Gibson, smart solutions division manager at SAIC.

NCI Information Systems Inc., a small integrator with just 1,350 employees, has selected biometrics as an area where it can stand out. The McLean, Va., company recently completed integrating a project at Arlington National Cemetery providing a fingerprint solution for physical access control that ties into time sheet and personnel functions.

"Not all the innovation takes place in the behemoth companies," said Tom Reinhardt, vice president of business development and homeland security for NCI.

Unisys also is looking to provide biometric solutions to the government. Ed Schaffner, director of positive identification and access control solutions in the company's public-sector unit, said Unisys is working with the Defense Department to enhance facial recognition technologies to more accurately identify individuals. The company also is talking to the State Department about using biometrics for controlling its network access.

TRW's Langley believes that biometrics will be both crucial to security and ubiquitous in presence. Consequently, the government should be considering how to develop a biometrics infrastructure over the next 15 years, such as the frameworks already in place for electricity, telecommunications and roads, he said.

Whether in their professional or personal lives, people will come to realize that biometrics provide protection against identity theft, just as the government recognizes biometrics as a useful tool against fraud and abuse.

The growing debate over privacy vs. security does not have to derail the widespread use of the technology, Langley said.

"These stovepipe mechanisms [are] a patchwork system without an architecture," he said. "There needs to be an overall architecture... a national infrastructure, but not a national database." *

Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached at pwait@postnewsweektech.com.

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