Biometrics for Border Security to Prompt Growth


As biometrics comes of age, recent tests show which biometric measures of identity are accurate enough to go into big, federally mandated homeland security projects. At the moment, all eyes are on U.S. borders, which are set to become a biometrics proving ground.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001 demands biometric IDs on documents of visitors to the United States starting in October 2004. But industry experts, like Raj Nanavati, partner at New York analysis firm International Biometric Group, say there’s some ambiguity in what that means.

“But at all ports of entry, there must be the capability to read the biometric off that visa or passport,” he said, according to Investors Business Daily.

Nanavati said the deadline hasn’t spurred buying. “It’s spurring interest in planning as to how to move forward.” How such projects turn out could speed or slow biometrics adoption in general, he adds. “The technology is real, and it’s out there today on a moderate scale,” he said. “But the pending scale is immense.”

So far, no one in the industry has handled a project as big as the border gig because it is a very large-scale project. Some 41.9 million visitors entered the U.S. last year, says the U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism Industries.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology deemed facial recognition accurate enough for use on a wide scale, like fingerprint scans. But it suggested, for border security, using both. Other biometrics, such as iris scanning, haven’t been tested for border security because they lack a big enough image comparison database.

Work has been under way to settle on a method for handling facial recognition and other biometric data, but the point is to get all the vendors on a common platform.

As the border project and other federal initiatives move forward, industry and state governments are steadily increasing their interest. The public also appears to support biometric scans.

A recent 1,000-person survey by Rochester, N.Y., pollster Harris Interactive Inc. found support for Homeland Security surveillance down little from just after the 9-11 terrorist attack.

Some 77 percent of those polled said they support the use of facial recognition technology to scan for suspected terrorists. That compares with 81 percent a year earlier and 86 percent in September 2001.

Yet consumer groups, also government reports, urge that privacy concerns be addressed as use of biometrics marches forward. And several dozen cities have formally spoken out against the USA Patriot Act, which enhances government surveillance powers.

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