Biometrics moves past 'what if' and into 'how to'

There was a major change of tone at this year's Biometrics Consortium Conference, which says a lot about the state of biometric science.

In past years, the conference ' which is sponsored by a number of federal agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Security Agency and Homeland Security Department ' has focused mostly on the technical hurdles in the way of making biometric efforts feasible.

However, this year, the focus of most speakers from federal agencies and military services was clearly on the challenges of implementation. Marine Corps Lt. Col. John Manson, a member of the Defense Department's Biometrics Tiger Team, summed it up: 'The technology that is out there already has outpaced our training.'

Lt. Col. Brian Hunt, chief of the operations division of the Army's Biometrics Task Force, agreed. 'Our biggest problem is training,' he said. 'This is a very perishable skill.'

Hunt said the biggest problem is in the field, where troops are collecting biometric data on suspected or known enemies. 'They are like cockroaches,' Hunt said of the enemies, noting that warfighters have to go into the 'dark spots' to collect biometric data.

The problem is keeping the workforce trained in biometric data collection in the field. He said predeployment training is contracted out by the military. 'You want to start to move to the point where units can be trained internally,' he said. 'We're looking toward the day when the Army can have institutionalized training.'

Another priority is increasing the sharing of collected data among different agencies.

'Transnational threats are the most pressing,' he said. 'We need databases that speak to each other. We have to go global to defeat our enemies.' Noting that U.S. forces can't simply go into many countries, such as Colombia and Singapore, Hunt emphasized the importance of equipping and training the workforce in other countries.

Other speakers noted that many of the biometric capabilities now commonly used in Iraq have yet to be implemented at facilities in the United States. 'The sky is not falling, but our bases are vulnerable,' said Michael Stone, a civilian employee at Northern Command. Noting that old-fashioned flash passes are still standard security at most bases, Stone said it is a priority to 'bring the technologies at Northcom up to the standards being employed over there.'

Advanced biometric technologies were also present on the floor of the product exhibition hall, where consumer-level products offered sophisticated biometrics. The Irikon line of iris authentication products from Rehoboth Tech, of South Korea, for example, includes iris scanners embedded in USB thumb drives and laptop PCs. That USB drive is expected to be available this fall for $269. And the laptop is being offered to manufacturers.

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