SIA Announces 2024 Women in Biometrics Award Winners

Leire Arbona Puertolas, Melissa Conley, Heather Haller and Caitlin Kneapler honored for biometrics leadership and contributions at GovSummit.

SILVER SPRING, Md. – The Security Industry Association (SIA) has named four women biometrics leaders as recipients of the 2024 SIA Women in Biometrics Awards.

The awards are part of a globally recognized program presented by SIA with support from sponsor IDEMIA and organizational and media partners AVISIAN, Biometric Update and SIA’s Identity & Biometric Technology Advisory Board and Women in Security Forum.

The 2024 awardees, honored last month at SIA GovSummit, SIA’s annual government security conference, are:

Leire Arbona Puértolas, Legal and Compliance Director, Veridas

Arbona Puértolas has established herself as an “expert in biometric identity verification and data protection laws” since joining Veridas in 2017. She is “instrumental in guiding the company’s compliance with international regulations,” including the General Data Protection Regulation or Artificial Intelligence Act in Europe, or the California Consumer Privacy Act in the United States.

She has also contributed to Veridas “becoming a model for compliance and innovation in digital identity services, influencing industry standards and practices worldwide.”

Arbona Puértolas “contributes to the legislative process in various countries, advising on laws that shape the future of digital identity verification” and “has played a crucial role in legislative developments in Spain and the European Union, and her expertise is frequently sought in international forums on privacy, biometrics and identity management.”

Arbona Puértolas holds dual degrees in law and business administration from Navarra Public University, Spain, bringing both legal insight and business acumen to her role at Veridas. Furthermore, she “firmly believes in the necessity of deep technical knowledge to create coherent and updated laws.”

Arbona Puértolas’ approach “drives Veridas’ compliance strategy and enhances its global mission to deliver secure, private and reliable identity verification solutions,” the SIA announcement says.

Melissa Conley, Executive Director, Capability Management and Innovation, Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Conley is the Transportation Security Administration executive director for capability management and innovation (CM&I) for the Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis (RCA). She is a member of the Senior Executive Service.

Conley provides enterprise oversight for all TSA operational capabilities throughout their life cycles to ensure proper resourcing and alignment to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA strategies and priorities.

She works with a team of capability managers to integrate all materiel and non-materiel capabilities into the security architecture to ensure a cohesive set of innovative security solutions to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Additionally, Conley coordinates innovation efforts with stakeholders, including current and emerging technology demonstrations intended to enhance operational capabilities and develop efficiencies.

She previously served as deputy assistant administrator (Acting) of RCA and led the strategy and development of TSA’s security architecture and operational capabilities to enhance security and optimize mission performance through analysis and innovation.

In addition to her work in advancing TSA’s capabilities for an improved passenger experience, Conley oversaw finance, operations and congressional and industry engagement on behalf of RCA.

She previously served as the senior advisor for the Office of RCA, advising on matters relating to capabilities and requirements used in all modes of transportation, and also previously served as the senior advisor for the Office of Security Operations, where she assisted the assistant administrator with security operations for approximately 440 airports nationwide, including a workforce of more than 50,000 employees.

Heather R. Haller, Acting Unit Chief, Quality & Analysis Support Unit, Biometric Services Section, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

A 27-year FBI employee, Haller serves as a supervisory management and program analyst in the Investigative Services Support Unit (ISSU). Haller started her FBI career at the CJIS Division in an entry-level position as a fingerprint examiner and over the years has supported the FBI in a variety of administrative, analytical and research and development positions.

Over the last 14 years, she has been primarily focused on facial recognition and has become a subject matter expert on the CJIS Division’s facial recognition program. As an analyst, Haller was instrumental in laying the groundwork to establish the CJIS Division’s Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation (FACE) Operations Services and participated in the development of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) Interstate Photo System (IPS).

Today, she oversees law enforcement connectivity for the NGI IPS, as well as data quality and policy through operational and technical considerations to improve system accuracy and performance.  Haller’s leadership and work on facial recognition policy has paved the way for new opportunities to advance the FBI’s facial recognition programs, to include the CJIS Division’s exciting new pilot using Clearview AI.

She participates in U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI facial recognition policy working groups and for the last two years led the CJIS Divisions Interoperability Program that works to foster the exchange of biometric and relevant biographic data between the NGI System, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s IDENT and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) ABIS.

Haller is a graduate of Fairmont State University.

Caitlin Kneapler, Ph.D., Technical Integrator, Senior Biometrics Technologist, Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Kneapler is a “highly skilled and detail-oriented research scientist with over a decade of diverse experience in various fields, including laboratory research, instruction, nonprofit research and analysis, and government agency work,” according to the SIA announcement.

Her expertise “spans a wide range of technical and scientific disciplines, with a particular focus on support of biometric and identity management.” She serves as a technical interdisciplinary chemist and technical integrator at the OBIM Futures Identity, a position she has held since August 2020. In this role, she is responsible for driving advancements in biometrics, identity and information technology.

Kneapler has been entrusted with project leadership, making critical decisions and providing guidance to project performers, including teams of contractors and national laboratory researchers, and she also evaluates and optimizes alternative system architecture solutions for compatibility and interoperability with operational applications.

Kneapler plays a crucial role in identifying, developing and realizing potential synergies and fostering information sharing among federal partnerships.

Her deep immersion in mission use cases enables her to comprehend mission needs statements for the identification and verification of individuals, and she also plans and develops implementation pathways for joint capability assessments and pilots with OBIM operational components.

Before her role at OBIM, Kneapler held roles as a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, where she designed, developed and executed planning and analysis efforts focused on biometrics and forensics, supporting decision makers in the intelligence community, DHS and DOD, and as an ORISE fellow at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Her academic experience includes a role as an assistant professor of spectroscopy at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. Kneapler holds a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Central Florida, where her dissertation focused on selective multivariate applications in forensic science, as well as a B.S. in forensic science from the University of Central Florida.

“Now in its 10th year, the SIA Women in Biometrics Awards are a globally recognized initiative to honor the outstanding leaders who are fostering change and innovation in biometric identity and security, and this year’s awardees have an impressive array of achievements in biometric technology, policy and compliance, capability management and operations, research, science and analysis across government and industry,” says SIA CEO Don Erickson in the association announcement.

“SIA commends Leire Arbona Puértolas, Melissa Conley, Heather Haller and Caitlin Kneapler for their impressive accomplishments in the biometrics field across and thanks them for their important work to advance our industry and make the world safer,” he says.

The 2024 SIA Women in Biometrics Awards honorees were selected by volunteer judges: past honorees Amanda Conley, supervisory human capital program manager at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Bethany Retton, management and program analyst in the FBI CJIS Division; Diane Stephens, biometric standards coordinator at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Cathy Tilton, solutions architect at Noblis.

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