DHS short of technology to manage its biometric pilots

DHS short of technology to manage its biometric pilots

Biometrics use is expanding so fast within the Homeland Security Department that "more and more we need a structure to manage all the efforts," assistant secretary Stewart Verdery Jr. said today at the Inside ID Conference and Expo in Washington.

DHS has more than 60 "stovepiped or loosely coordinated biometric projects,' Verdery said. 'We need to develop a vision for collecting, analyzing, storing and exchanging the data under common standards, unified processes and a single identity" for each person across organizations granting access or benefits.

"We need to be able to freeze people's IDs in one of our systems" so they will be caught even if they steal other, legitimate IDs, he said.

"I can't overemphasize the breadth of the task" assigned to DHS last August by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 11, he said. Secretary Tom Ridge this month delivered to the White House an initial, confidential report under the directive detailing a governmentwide screening architecture, to be followed soon by an implementation and investment plan, he said.

DHS has five biometric pilots under way or about to begin for the Transportation Security Administration's Registered Traveler program, the Transportation Worker ID Credential and other efforts, said Verdery, who oversees policy and planning in the Border and Transportation Security Directorate.

Various airports are testing fingerprint authentication of travelers, others use iris scans and some are switching. For example, Reagan Washington National Airport next week will switch from prints to iris scans, he said.

One governmentwide authentication effort already decided on is a common, cross-agency ID for federal law enforcement agents who can carry firearms on flights. "They had way too many types of federal credentials," Verdery said. The same goes for transportation workers at airports, seaports and other sites: "Some have had multiple forms of ID; others have nothing."

A prototype beginning this week on both coasts with 150,000 workers at 40 sites will eliminate the duplicate IDs via a fingerprint template stored on a TWIC smart card, he said.

When the five pilots are done, "then we must make them interoperable as a real system of systems," Verdery said. Next could be a move into international authentication, he predicted.

"We are extremely proud of deploying biometrics without affecting travel in a negative way," he said. So far, 10 million foreign visitors have been checked at 129 ports of entry, with 1,200 hits against terrorist and criminal watch lists. The effort has greatly reduced the number of travelers selected for extra screening, he said.

As for cargo, "we need a more unified supply chain strategy. The risk assessment engines must be robust" so that cargo need not be examined by brute force, Verdery said.

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