Congress jumped the gun on biometrics, FBI official says

The implementation of biometric technology became a hot topic when Congress passed the Patriot Act and Border Security Act last year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the measures were premature, the FBI's acting deputy CIO said.

Both pieces of legislation appropriated funds for biometric systems, but the technology is not yet ready for widespread implementation, the FBI's Selena Hutchinson said this week at a conference in New York, Beyond the Technology: The Law and Policy Implications of Biometric Use.

And development of biometric systems will be slowed by other concerns, such as the potential war on Iraq, Hutchinson said.

Part of the government's vision for biometrics is linking subjects' biometric identifiers with information in databases at various agencies. Sharing that information, Hutchinson said, will require agencies to share the technologies they use.

'It's going to be incumbent on us to leverage from each other,' she said.

The FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System is the closest thing to enterprise adoption of biometrics by the federal government, said Raj Nanavati, a partner in the International Biometric Group in New York, who also spoke at the conference.

Linda Phillips, director of technology consultant PNL Associates LLC of Falls Church, Va., said the government hasn't implemented any large-scale use of biometrics and probably won't barring another catastrophe similar to the terrorist attacks.

'It's going to take another crisis to use biometrics on any level,' Phillips said.

While several speakers envisioned slow adoption of biometrics, Capt. Thomas Cowper of the New York State Police predicted significant progress in the near future
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'We are on an exponential curve,' he said of law enforcement use of biometrics.

Cowper said that in 10 to 12 years some police officers might wear biometric scanners while walking a beat, allowing them to determine the identities of suspects instantly while in the field.

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