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

The US Defense Department's arduous collection of biometrics from Iraqi detainees (both the innocent and the guilty) is being carried out under an agreement with the Iraqi government, but military officials acknowledge the collection methods "are more permissive than what you'd find in this country," Pratt said.

Biometrics era

The soldier's biometrics jumpkits are just one example of how the US government has embraced the science of collecting fingerprint, face, iris and other biometrics to identify individuals since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We've always had the issue of identity fraud. It took 9/11 as a catalyst for Congress to say we need something better," said Robert Mocny, director of the US Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program, which requires foreign visitors coming to the United States to submit to an electronic fingerprint scan to be checked against a watch database. The program, which originally started as a two-finger scan for foreign visitors, is being updated to 10 fingers and both palm prints at US ports of entry and places where visas are obtained.

Although the US-VISIT biometrics program initially faced controversy, it now successfully checks 23 million prints per year, Mocny said. Other countries, including Canada, Japan, Peru and Argentina, have either launched or will soon launch similar visitor biometrics systems.

The next step Congress wants is "some kind of biometrics exit," Mocny said, to ensure those who entered the United States as visitors actually left the country. "Standing that up for us will be a challenge."

DHS would like airlines to assist in the biometrics collection process at departure gates, for example, but Mocny acknowledged, "The airlines aren't happy about it."

Another large-scale government biometrics project just getting ramped up is the Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) program. This joint project initiated by the US Coast Guard and the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires workers at port facilities, vessels, drilling rigs and docks to carry a card-based credential with their digital fingerprints stored on it to prove their identity in on-the-spot fingerprint checks using mobile card readers.

The credential costs more than US$100 and must be paid for by the worker's employer or the worker directly.

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Ellen Messmer

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