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Army Takes Hands-On Approach to Biometrics Sharing

October 15, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

Organizations have a much better chance of tracking and catching criminals if more cross-agency information is available to them. That's why the Army's Biometrics Identity Management Agency, which is tasked with coordinating biometrics efforts across the Defense Department, is expanding data-sharing capabilities with other government agencies and coalition partners. The agency operates the department's premier biometrics database, and is coordinating with the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security to share their biometrics data. In this month's issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Technology Editor George I. Seffers describes these efforts in his article, "U.S. Defense Department Expands Biometrics Technologies, Information Sharing." The Defense Department uses its Automated Biometrics Identification System (DOD ABIS) to process and store biometrics data; and Justice uses the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which includes fingerprints, criminal histories, aliases, mug shots, scar and tattoo photographs, and physical characteristics such as height, weight, and hair and eye color. The departments of State and Homeland Security share a database also known as the Automated Biometrics Identification System, but referred to as IDENT. It stores biometrics from visa applicants, visitors to the United States, illegal border crossers and immigration violators. Combine data from each of these repositories, make it available to the participating agencies, and the possibilities expand a thousand-fold. In the wake of 9/11 and heavy criticism leveled at the government for not sharing valuable intel data, this is one solid approach to connecting the dots and shoring up holes in the process. By improving data-sharing capabilities among departments, the government is more fully realizing the power of biometrics technology, says Lisa Swan, the Biometrics Identity Management Agency's deputy director:

The person we may collect biometrics on in [the war] theater today may be the same person who shows up in a U.S. airport wanting entry-and this has happened. Maybe he gives the same name, maybe he doesn't. Maybe he links back to a fingerprint that was found on an improvised explosive device. That's certainly something you want to know before you let someone in the country.

The steps being taken to move forward include the agency seeking to replace the DOD ABIS with the Biometrics Enabling Capability, which will offer greater capacity and throughput, and expand the types of biometrics data stored, possibly including voice recognition, DNA and body odors. The system has since been upgraded to DOD ABIS version 1.0, which stores fingerprinte, facial images, palm prints and iris patterns. A number of other toolsets and detection devices already are being employed in current theater of war operations. Formerly known as the Biometrics Task Force, the Biometrics Identity Management Agency in March became a full-fledged U.S. Army agency with a departmentwide mission. Swan foresees a time when biometrics data will be used to identify friendly or enemy troops wounded on the battlefield, to ensure soldiers and their families receive authorized health care, and to identify displaced persons or track those who have received emergency rations following natural disasters:

We look at what's going on in biometrics science and technology across the department and in academia to see where we can leverage the different activities and pull them together for the greater good.

It's a wide world out there, and U.S. government agencies can use all help available to catch the bad guys. The Army's Biometrics Identity Management Agency is tasked with and has undertaken the job of coordinating biometrics across the Defense Department, patching together the databases of Justice, State and Homeland Security in the endeavor. Are these efforts reaping benefits yet, and can this coordination be achieved seamlessly? Read the full article and share your views.

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