Best practices being crafted to enable broader use of mobile biometric devices

Biometrics — the automated comparison of physical attributes such as fingerprints to establish identity — is being integrated into government ID management schemes, and mobile devices are moving this technology into the field and away from central databases.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released Special Publication 500-280, a set of best practices to help agencies the most use out of systems that might not be easily interoperable.

“Over the past several years mobile ID devices and systems have been employed for various applications,” the report states. “In the FBI and law enforcement environment[s] these devices enable an officer to acquire a subject’s fingerprints, facial image or other biometric at a variety of different physical locations. In a typical Department of Defense application they are used for identity verification of foreign workers, access control to secured communities and bases, and for ad hoc checkpoint operations.”

The Homeland Security Department uses mobile biometrics in its US-VISIT program to screen foreign visitors, and in its Transportation Worker Identification Credential program. “Across all departments, the Personal Identity Verification [PIV] program for uniform civilian credentialing may be relying more on mobile ID devices in the future.”

To get the most use out of the technology, the FBI is piloting a system based on the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC) to access records of wanted people. In addition, the Defense Department wants warfighters to be able to search DOD, FBI, and DHS biometric databases. This will require a set of common interoperability requirements at the local, state and federal levels that do not yet exist.

“Unfortunately, data acquired from a mobile ID device using one system cannot always be read or processed by another system,” NIST said. Different scanning resolutions, use of images and templates, data formats and image size all contribute to a general lack of interoperability.

An Advisory Policy Board to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division has requested guidance principles for mobile biometric system applications to address these issues, and NIST has produced Version 1 of its best practice recommendations for mobile ID devices.

Mobile devices now are being manufactured to capture fingerprints and facial and iris images, and added features such as voice identification are being planned. The best practices identified by NIST focus on the capture and exchange of fingerprints and facial and iris images. Images produce a more accurate result than templates when data is exchanged between dissimilar systems, NIST said.

Best practices are being developed rather than technical standards largely because of the large installed base of good biometric systems that are not obsolete and will continue to be used for the foreseeable future. NIST urges the development of a road map for future technology that progressively raises the bar for interoperability and for the quality and accuracy of comparisons while maintaining backward compatibility.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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