• United States

Biometrics gets a boost with gov’t contracts

Oct 13, 20033 mins
Access ControlBiometricsEnterprise Applications

* Department of Homeland Security secures borders with biometric systems

We’ve talked about U.S. and EU government initiatives to provide more secure identity information by including biometric information with passports (see link below) but an initiative doesn’t amount to much until the purchase order gets cut.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has now put its money where its mouth is and signed a five-year Blanket Purchase Agreement with Identix. The vendor will provide its TouchPrint 3000 line of fingerprint-biometric live scan booking stations and desktop systems to the Citizenship and Immigration Service as well as to other areas of the DHS.

At the same time, the DHS announced a $3.5 million deal with Information Spectrum for 1,000 optical-stripe read/write drives and biometric verification systems for the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology (U.S. VISIT) program.

U.S. VISIT is the new program that requires the collection of biometric data from all foreign nationals visiting the U.S. It’s scheduled for full implementation at all U.S. airports and seaports as of Jan. 1, 2004. The biometric data collected will include photographs, fingerprints, and scanning of travel documents for all foreign visitors subject to visa requirements. The data collected will be checked against a variety of databases upon entry, and admitted foreign nationals will have their identifier information verified again upon their departure from the U.S.

When the program was announced, it was expected to have a positive impact on companies in the biometric space and we’re now seeing the result, which is certainly positive, at least for these two companies. It’s expected that others will participate as the program grows in size.

Most of the people reading this newsletter won’t benefit directly from the new programs or contracts, but the awareness of biometric identity management should increase tremendously as more people come into contact with the programs either through active participation or through friends, associates and colleagues.

Recent news stories about biometrics have not been positive, with most talking about police departments ending facial recognition initiatives such as the one in Tampa, Fla., which took so much heat at the 2001 Super Bowl.

The Tampa police in August scrapped its facial recognition system, which it had installed in Tampa’s Ybor City, as well as at the 2001 Super Bowl venue because it failed to lead to any arrests. The system could, supposedly, match up records in a database of wanted criminals with the facial-scans from the cameras.

The average citizen thinks the use of the term “biometrics” means that the facial recognition fiasco is equivalent to the new enhanced passport and visa programs while nothing could be further from the truth. The visa and passport scheme is to identify a person by comparing a “live” biometric (say, a fingerprint) with a stored one already associated with that person’s identity. The facial recognition scheme was to take one face and attempt to match it, on the fly, with one of thousands in a database. The first case is one-to-one, the second is one-to-many.

Here’s hoping the DHS, Identix and Information Spectrum (as well as anyone else associated with these initiatives) does a good job. Biometrics can use some good publicity right now.