Biometrics run ahead of biometric policies

GCN Insider: Federal policies are not keeping up with the emerging technologies.

'Envision a future in which large-scale portal screening such as at airports is no longer a matter of forming long, snaking lines for serial processing, but more nearly resembles Grand Central Station, with individual travelers moving in a Brownian way,' ' that is, any way they want to, William Gravel, a Defense Department consultant, said to the audience at a recent biometrics conference in Baltimore. 'It is a vision,' he said, but 'it is not a fantasy.'

'Believe it or not, a year-and-a-half ago iris [scanning] was viewed as a dicey experiment by many in the policy sector of the defense technology community,' Gravel said. 'We all know how very much progress has been made in this regard.' Indeed, Gravel noted that the standard for DOD biometrics is now the '13 biometric template' ' which consists of scanning 10 fingers, two eyes and one face.

But while there is still room for technological improvement ' especially in reducing the time required to capture and process scans ' the critical challenge now, according to Gravel, is developing the policies and information technology infrastructure to implement those technologies.

'In the beginning of 2006,' Gravel said, 'we came to a seminal conclusion that, while we were tasked to talk about, think about, look at and study biometrics, we should've been scoped in a completely different direction, a way with a label called 'identity management.' '

Gravel didn't prioritize between the IT side of identity management ' connecting multimodal biometric devices, and developing and connecting secure databases for managing the collected information ' and the need to develop policies for implementing biometrics. But he did spend more time discussing the consequences of not having federal policies keep up with the emerging technologies.

'The history of identity management in the first half-decade of the 21st century is a conga line of technical projects that work but that fail because they are not accepted,' Gravel said. 'The government hasn't done very well historically in understanding the [need to] explain to people what it wants to do, to make a case for it.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


  • business meeting (Monkey Business Images/

    Civic tech volunteers help states with legacy systems

    As COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in state and local government IT systems, the newly formed U.S. Digital Response stepped in to help. Its successes offer insight into existing barriers and the future of the civic tech movement.

  • data analytics (

    More visible data helps drive DOD decision-making

    CDOs in the Defense Department are opening up their data to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that help surface insights and improve decision-making.

Stay Connected