Biometrics help US soldiers fight terrorism

US government also using biometrics to identify employees, contractors and foreign visitors

US Army soldiers can now use biometrics to identify terrorism suspects

US Army soldiers can now use biometrics to identify terrorism suspects

"We have an enrollment now of 500,000," said Maurine Fanguy, TWIC program director at TSA. "We've been able to take this out to the worker." TSA estimates about 1.2 million workers will get a TWIC card, with a mandate this should be completed by April of next year.

TWIC field tests will soon commence in five locations, including with Watermark Cruises and Magnolia Marine.

Some equipment has had to be modified to the environment: Dock workers tend to have much bigger hands than average, for example. "We're encountering people with hands so big, they can palm the standard reader," Fanguy said. "Fingerprints like you've never seen in your life."

The TSA also wants airport operators and airlines to migrate from the physical access-control methods they now use to government-approved biometrics-based access methods. Carter Morris, senior vice president at the American Association of Airport Executives, who spoke on the topic at the conference, said 40 airports have formed the "Biometric Airport Security Identification Consortium" to speak with a common voice to the government on the topic.

Morris said the airport industry and airport operators want a very clear idea of what to invest in, hopefully based on a "standards-based framework," for the biometric verification of aviation workers so whatever is put in place would be interoperable.

Overcoming obstacles

Deploying biometrics is not easy, and the General Services Administration (GSA) is finding that out in its effort to outfit government employees and contractors with the Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card required under the US Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12) signed by President Bush in August 2004.

HSPD-12 called into creation the PIV smart card with digital credentials and a two-fingerprint biometric, provided upon completion of a background and criminal check.

Civilian federal agencies -- and increasingly the Defense Department, which has long has its own Common Access Card -- are looking at PIV to be the credential for physical and logical access. But David Temoshok, director of identity policy and management at GSA, acknowledged "interoperability is very hard across 19 systems. I won't say it's impossible, but it will be very hard to do."

At GSA, which has issued about 100,000 PIV cards, the card still isn't actually being used for physical or logical access at this point, Temoshok said.

Another challenge is combating false identities.

Experts point out that biometrics, while connecting a person with a physical attribute as proof of identity, is only as good as the underlying process for vetting the real identity of the person, lest biometrics be exploited to give cover to someone using a false identity.

"It's the 'breeder document' problem," said Gail Nix, global executive director for border management and public safety at consultancy Accenture, who spoke at the conference. "There is worry about terrorists gaining multiple identities."

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