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Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Use of Biometrics has the Left Atwitter Yet Again

The Washington Post is reporting that the FBI is preparing a vast database of biometrics, a $1 billion effort, for identification purposes, to be called Next Generation Identification, which would include, faces, fingerprints and palm patterns and in the coming years is expected to utilize iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists.

The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government. For the past two years, the Defense Department has been storing in a database images of fingerprints, irises and faces of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Afghan detainees, Iraqi citizens and foreigners who need access to U.S. military bases. The Pentagon also collects DNA samples from some Iraqi detainees, which are stored separately.

The Department of Homeland Security has been using iris scans at some airports to verify the identity of travelers who have passed background checks and who want to move through lines quickly. The department is also looking to apply iris- and face-recognition techniques to other programs. The DHS already has a database of millions of sets of fingerprints, which includes records collected from U.S. and foreign travelers stopped at borders for criminal violations, from U.S. citizens adopting children overseas, and from visa applicants abroad. There could be multiple records of one person's prints.

"It's going to be an essential component of tracking," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's enabling the Always On Surveillance Society."

The FBI is building its system according to standards shared by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Wapo goes on to report that a request reaches the FBI servers, housed in a facility the size of two football fields, every second from somewhere in the U.S. or Canada, comparing a set of digital fingerprints against the FBI's database of 55 million sets of electronic fingerprints. A possible match is made -- or ruled out--as many as 100,000 times a day."

Soon, the server at CJIS headquarters will also compare palm prints and, eventually, iris images and face-shape data such as the shape of an earlobe. If all goes as planned, a police officer making a traffic stop or a border agent at an airport could run a 10-fingerprint check on a suspect and within seconds know if the person is on a database of the most wanted criminals and terrorists. An analyst could take palm prints lifted from a crime scene and run them against the expanded database. Intelligence agents could exchange biometric information worldwide.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already been using iris scans at airports to verify the identity of individuals that have already passed their background checks to move them through the lines quicker.

The FBI's database includes criminal history records, communicates with the Terrorist Screening Center's database of suspects and the National Crime Information Center database, which is the FBI's master criminal database of felons, fugitives and terrorism suspects.

There are still kinks in the technology but as it advances, this promises to be another tool to protect ourselves against criminals and terrorists and of course anything that is aimed at protecting our citizens and our country automatically gets the left all atwitter.