Choke Points to Checkpoints

This is some promising biometric technology from AOptix.Enrolling in the system is the first step and means just seconds of standing in the capture field of the slender tower, and the device scans both iris and face of the person.The scanning captures images within seconds and the software converts the images into binary code.It then subsequently scans and matches the person’s biometrics against the database for positive identification.The beauty of this system is that it is simple and fast and can be used for passenger screening, immigration, or any other access control for entry/egress for a building, location, or even to a computer computer system and it’s information.According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the Insight Duo Towers sells for $40,000 each.

Eighty of these are currently in use at all air, land, and sea borders in Qatar.  Further, Dubai International Airport has been piloting this at a terminal that handles 40 million people per year, and it has cut immigration waiting times from 49 minutes to 22 seconds.

This technology has obvious important applications for military, law enforcement, and homeland security, as well as even more generalized security use in the private sector.

And while very impressive, here are some concerns about it that should be addressed:

1) Enrollment of Biometrics and Personal Identification–registering for the system may only take a few seconds for the actual scan, but then verifying who you are (i.e. who those biometrics really belong to) is another step in the process not shown.  How do we know that those iris and face prints belong to Joe Schmo the average citizen who should be allowed through the eGate and not to a known terrorist on the watch list?  The biometrics need to be associated with a name, address, social security, date of birth and other personal information.

2) Rights versus Recognitions–rights to access and recognition are two different things. Just because there is iris and facial recognition, doesn’t mean that this is someone who should be given access rights to a place, system or organization.  So the devil is in the details of implementation in specifying who should have access and who should not.

3) Faking Out The System–no system is perfect and when something is advertised as accurate, the question to me is how accurate and where are the system vulnerabilities. For example, can the system be hacked and false biometrics or personal identification information changed?  Can a terrorist cell, criminal syndicate, or nations state create really good fake iris and facial masks for impersonating an enrollee and fooling the system into thinking that a bad good is really a good guy.

4) Privacy of Personally Identifiable Information (PII)–not specific to AOptix, but to this biometric solutions overall–how do we ensure privacy of the data, so it is not stolen or misused such as for identity theft.  I understand that AOptix has PKI encryption, but how strong is the encryption,who long does it take to break, and what are the policies and procedures within organizations to safeguard this privacy data.

5) Big Brother Society–biometrics recognition may provide for opportunities for safe and secure access and transit, but what are the larger implications for this to become a “big brother” society where people are identified and tracked wherever they go and whatever they do. Where are the safeguards for democracy and human rights.

Even with these said, I believe that this is the wave of the future for access control–as AOptix’s says, for changing choke points to checkpoints–we need a simple, fast, secure, and cost-effective way to identify friends and foe and this is it, for the masses, in the near-term.

>Advanced Biometrics for Law Enforcement

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Homeland Security Today Magazine (March 2010) has an interesting article called “Biometrics on the Battlefield” about how the American military has had significant success in Afghanistan taking biometrics and in using it for “vetting, tracking, and identification.”

Here’s how it’s done:

The biometrics system uses HIIDE (Handheld Interagency Identity Detection System) devices, which is “similar in size to a large camera, [that] connects directly to the BATS [Biometrics Automated Tool Set] database and matches inputs against a biometrics watch list of 10,000 individuals.”

The database “BATS uses a combination of fingerprints, photographs and iris scans, in addition to an in-depth background examination” to “screen potential local employees, identify detainees, and differentiate friendly individuals from insurgents and terrorists.”

How successful has the use of biometrics been?

“The use of biometrics has clearly thwarted security breaches and helped prevent unwanted activities by the enemy. Additionally, in 2008 alone, hundreds of HVTs (high value targets) were identified through the use of this biometrics technology.”

The article suggests the application of this biometric system for domestic law enforcement use.

Currently, fingerprint cards or stationary scanners are common, but with the proposed military biometrics system, there is the technology potential to use mobile scanning devices quickly and easily in the field.

The article gives the example: “if an officer came into contact with an individual under suspect conditions, a simple scan of the iris would ascertain that person’s status as a convicted felon, convicted violent felon, convicted sex offender or someone on whom an alert has been placed.”

In this scenario, quicker and more accurate identification of suspects could not only aid in dealing with dangerous offenders and benefit the officers in terms of their personal safety, but also contribute to ensuring community safety and security through enhanced enforcement capabilities.

Of course, using such a system for law enforcement would have to pass legal muster including applicable privacy concerns, but as the author, Godfrey Garner, a retired special forces officer, states “hopefully, this valuable technology will be recognized and properly utilized to protect law enforcement officer in the United States. I know that I’ve seen it protect our sons and daughters on the battlefields of Afghanistan.”

We are living in an amazing time of technology advances, and the potential to save lives and increase public safety and security through lawful use of biometrics is a hopeful advancement for all.