Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 22, 2008

Global Biometrics Database in the Offing?

Filed under: Border Security,International HLS,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 22, 2008

International cooperation in combating terrorism is a no-brainer value add.  And we often try to address on this blog ways in which cooperation can be deepened – or established in the first place as the case may be.  So I was interested — and concerned — to read about a database under joint development by the U.S. Australia, UK, Canada, Japan, and China. 

The database will house biometric data on individuals in order to identify people based on fingerprints, but also such things as voice and facial expression.  These “signatures” are intended to help homeland security authorities better identify and trace terrorists and other suspects.

A story today on News.com.au covered an international forensics conference taking place this week in Australia where this developing database was described by American Patrick Wang, a professor at Northeastern University who spoke at the event. Wang explained that “cross-country collaboration is already under way. There have been some very minor achievements, but people still expect to spend more money and time and to achieve a solution that cannot afford any more mistakes – aiming for 100 per cent accuracy.”

Biometrics are used across many parts of the private sector for facility entry credentials.  But the homeland security and law enforcement communities are gaining momentum. Next month, the FBI will let a contract for a $1 billion revamp of their fingerprints database (IAFIS) into a robust multi-metric identification database called Next Generation Identification that will include the ability to process, store, and analyze several other biometrics. DHS recently started its Biometric Storage System to support its immigration services and other credentialing programs. Could the international database gain access to NGI and BSS? Perhaps these U.S. databases will hoover the international sources.

Professor Wang scopes the effort as follows: “We’re talking about the internet, telephony, mobile phones, mobile phone cameras, digital cameras – all of these are being used not only to commit crimes but also to solve crimes,” he said.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 22, 2008 @ 9:10 am

The only question on biometric ID issues is the question of time and money. Civil libertarians have neither the resources nor the strength of intellect to challenge effectively this trend. Where does this leave us as a nation. Clearly international border crossings down the road will be allowed only for those in full compliance with these systems. To that extent the power of the Nation-states will be enhanced since travel control has always been a huge issue since the adoption of passports as a consequence of WW1. Probably going to end up with approval of a priviledged class of citizens that can bypass these on occassion either through graft,corruption, or influence. The current biometric systems can be defeated but at great expense and effort. The great expansion of these systems will come as they are expanded to domestic applications, just as the use of Social Security numbers (while technically forbidden) have expanded as a basic ID number. Probably will see expansion of federal controls over not just driver liscenses but also birth certificates in next 50 years. The trend on this is definitely in favor of the state. Plastic surgeons and other who can help defeat this system will also be subject to increased federal control. A long term consolidation into regional (hemispheric) economic and intelligence/identify blocks is under way. Difficult to see where this will end but perhaps a recent movie on establishment of a DNA police and a society divided into two blocks, those children with chosen heredity characteristics and those left to chance represents another civil libertarian challenge. Because of effort and expense science and its “progress” is a creature of the state and we already know the legacy of the scientists on nuclear proliferation issues. Namely proliferation always justified by the state in conjunction with those who control investment capital. Oh by the way the military will be fully biometric ID’d by 2020.

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January 23, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

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