Feds focus in on biometric tools

Feds focus in on biometric tools

Improving biometric security devices 'is going to be a public-private partnership,' NIST's Omid Omidvar says.

Security mandates spur standards and testing

Transportation and law enforcement agencies are rushing to try biometric security, and in some cases Congress is mandating its use.

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 calls for $23 million worth of security tests, including biometric ones, at 20 airports. Pending legislation to enhance border security would integrate biometrics into the Immigration and Naturalization Service's entry and exit system.

Officials of the Federal Aviation Administration, INS and other agencies discussed their tests at a recent conference sponsored by the Biometric Consortium, a standards group led by the National Security Agency and National Institute of Standards and Technology. The conference, originally scheduled to begin Sept. 12, was postponed after the previous day's terrorist attacks.

Inventing and improving biometric security devices 'is going to be a public-private partnership,' said Omid Omidvar, manager of NIST's Advanced Technology Program. 'The government can create needs and standards, but it cannot create solutions.'

ATP could fund 'groundbreaking, not in-cremental, innovations' in voice, iris and optical-pattern recognition, Omidvar said.

Within six months, FAA will begin the congressionally mandated tests, including reviews of biometric sensors, said Rick Lazarick, aviation security technology chief at FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Tests of employee access to secure sections of airports will use fingerprint scanners, hand-geometry readers and facial recognition systems.

In October, Lazarick assembled a working group with members from the Customs Service, Defense Department, FAA, FBI, NASA and private organizations. The group's report appears on the Web at www.biometricscatalog.org/asbwg.

In December, the new Transportation Security Administration named Lazarick to a biometrics 'go team' with 45 days to re-view the technologies and how they could be used to improve security.

The team recommended national standards and an approved-products list, Lazarick said. Its report will be made public soon, after an internal review.

Device review

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act also requires a review of the effectiveness of biometric devices already in use at U.S. airports, Lazarick said.

At the moment, San Francisco International Airport is the only airport using biometrics, for controlling access to employee-only areas, Lazarick said.

The airport has a combination of smart-card readers and hand-geometry readers at entrances to secured areas, said Mark Denari, the airport's director of aviation security and special systems.

Airport officials chose hand geometry because of its comparatively low false positives and false negatives, as well as fast throughput and high user acceptance, Denari said.

More than 200 access points at the San Francisco airport have HandKey readers from Recognition Systems Inc. of Campbell, Calif. The entryways process more than 250,000 transactions daily, each averaging less than 15 seconds, Denari said.

Smart-card readers identify only the cards that are authorized to pass through a doorway, he said, whereas hand geometry positively identifies the person who holds the card.

A law passed in June 2000 required INS to implement an entry and exit data system at all entry points in three stages, ending in 2005, said Robert A. Mocny, acting assistant commissioner of INS' Office of Inspections.

The Bush administration has since asked the agency to meet the deadlines one year earlier, Mocny said.

The proposed Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001, HR 3525 and S 1749, would require use of biometrics for the entry-exit system.

Older systems

But 'most of our systems are legacy systems,' Mocny said. 'They wouldn't recognize a biometric if they saw one.'

Nevertheless, INS has conducted pilot studies at four U.S. and two Canadian airports. The INS Passenger Accelerated Service System has recorded the hand geom-etries of more than 35,000 frequent busi- ness travelers.

INS has also experimented with incorporating facial and voice recognition into its Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection program. It has tried adding fingerprints and facial data to border crossing cards, Mocny said.

Detective Bill Todd of the Tampa, Fla., police department recounted how the city used FaceIt facial recognition software from Visionics Corp. of Minnetonka, Minn.

In 1997, police installed closed-circuit surveillance cameras around Ybor City, Tampa's entertainment district, and within the past year they added facial-recognition software. The software links to a database of images of runaway youths, sexual predators under court supervision and people wanted on felony charges.

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